Gonzaga to the Mountain West? Zags hope to reach conference decision in next two weeks
The Bulldogs may be playing in the Mountain West as soon as the 2018-19 season
LOS ANGELES -- "In a perfect world," Gonzaga will make a decision about its conference affiliation in the next two weeks as the potential exists for it to join the Mountain West ahead of the 2018-19 season, athletic director Mike Roth told CBS Sports.
There is mutual interest between both parties in Gonzaga becoming the 12th basketball member of the 20-year-old Mountain West.
In early March, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that his league had been in expansion talks with Gonzaga and "other schools."
Roth shot down rumors stating Gonzaga and BYU were headed to the Mountain West as part of a package deal.
However, four days after last year's Final Four (April 7, 2017), Wichita State announced it was joining the American Athletic Conference. Using that time frame, Roth said time is running out for Gonzaga to make a move ahead of next season.
"We're going to be closing on a window that is going to be making it difficult," Roth said. "I think we're into that crunch period for sure if we're going to try to get it done for the fall of 2018. At the same time, we're not going to rush the decision because of timing. "
"In a perfect world, we're going to be making a decision in the next couple of weeks here," Roth added during the West Regional that concluded here Saturday. "But there is no such thing as perfect worlds in the crazy world of college athletics."
Thompson said of Gonzaga, "We talked to them. A lot would have to happen between now and [a date close to] April 6. They're done [with the season]. Hopefully they think about it now."
Such a move would seemingly have little to do with revenue, at least for Gonzaga. The Mountain West TV contract is worth approximately $18 million (about $1.5 million per school). Gonzaga's current league, the West Coast Conference, gets a tiny fraction compared to that amount.
Based on an industry standard that basketball is worth only 25 percent of any media rights contract, jumping to the MWC would net Gonzaga only $375,000 per season.
Rather, the relationship would be mutually beneficial on the court. By leaving the 10-team West Coast Conference, Gonzaga would automatically get an upgrade in its league schedule.
The Mountain West would get a conference RPI boost. The Zags are considered a national power under Mark Few having been to 20 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and four consecutive Sweet 16s. Gonzaga lost last year's national championship game to North Carolina.
There is a general feeling that Gonzaga will do whatever Few feels is best for the program.
"Our conference doesn't get the national respect, and the Mountain West has better respect," Roth said. "Whether it's significant enough for us to make that move, we're trying to figure [that] out."
The MWC is rated No. 9 in conference RPI by CBS Sports, third-best among mid-major conferences. The WCC has an RPI of 14.
"One of the reasons we play that aggressive nonconference schedule is, once we get into conference [play], it's not going to be as strong as the Power Five," Roth added. "Their strength of schedule goes up in conference. Our strength of schedule goes down."
Gonzaga was in two of the six total games played by WCC teams against opponents in the top 25 of the RPI this season.
The issue has not been discussed at the presidential level by the Mountain West, Thompson said. Any move would have to be approved by those presidents.
However, Thompson said there is still time to admit the Zags for 2018-19. Gonzaga just lost a Sweet 16 game to Florida State on Thursday.
"The answer is, 'Yes,'" Thompson told CBS Sports. "We would need to have some serious, detailed conversations which have not happened to date. We're interested because they're a tremendous basketball program. They're Western-based."
Roth stressed there is no firm "drop dead date." He referenced both Wichita State and Butler joining new conferences relatively late. Butler joined the Big East on March 20, 2013, and became official members on July 1 that year.
"This isn't a no-brainer decision for us by any stretch," Roth said.
Adding to the intrigue, both Gonzaga and Wichita State have used the same consultant in contemplating their conference moves. Atlanta-based Jeff Schemmel is a veteran former college administrator at many levels.
Roth said the Mountain West isn't the only conference he has spoken to in the last year. While he wouldn't identify the other conferences, it's logical to assume the AAC and Big East might be in that group.
The Big East has a similar culture with 10 private schools who do not sponsor football. Gonzaga would be the only member of the Mountain West that does not play football. Hawai'i is a football-only member in the Mountain West that plays its basketball in the Big West Conference.
"The reality is where we're located," Roth said. "That location led to the Mountain West being a part of this discussion. It doesn't mean now people aren't thinking more out of the box.
Roth is long-time friends with BYU AD Tom Holmoe. The Cougars continue to face questions about their football affiliation heading into Year 8 of independence.
"It's not a package deal" to the Mountain West, Holmoe told CBS Sports.
"Tom and I had a lot of discussions but not one time did our discussions end with Gonzaga and BYU," Roth said. "… There's never been a discussion between the Mountain West and somebody else joining us. I know there's been some rumors out there. That's not fair to Tom."
BYU was a member of the Mountain West from 1999-2010. The Cougars have long been speculated as an expansion candidate in other leagues, mostly recently in the Big 12, which ended its expansion exploration two years ago.
BYU plays basketball in the WCC. Losing national power Gonzaga to the Mountain West might force BYU officials to consider their future in a suddenly-weakened league.
The Union-Tribune has previously quoted Holmoe saying, "I'm aware of the talk. If you've listened to me over the years, I'm not going to put my stuff out on the table about where we are. It's just best to keep things internal, and I'm surprised that Craig Thompson didn't keep his stuff internal."
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