Brigham Young University has confirmed that it will join the West Coast Conference as a member in basketball and other sports beginning with the 2011-2012 athletic season.
The school announced its withdrawal from the Mountain West Conference – effective June 30, 2011 – in a press release Tuesday afternoon. BYU faced a deadline today to notify the MWC of its intentions.
The Cougars will compete as an independent in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision beginning in 2011, though it is not expected to have a guaranteed BCS bowl bid as Notre Dame does if it’s in the top eight in the final BCS standings.
For the WCC, it marks the first expansion since Gonzaga and San Diego were admitted for the 1979-80 season.
And the reaction at Gonzaga was unequivocally upbeat.
“It makes sense competitively – they’ll come in and challenge in all of our sports and that’s exactly what you want when you add a conference member,” said Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth.
Roth also noted that nearly a year ago, the conference membership addressed the possibility of future expansion and laid out a number of “principles” it would apply in dealing with the issue. Foremost among those: that any potential member would, like the existing WCC schools, have to be a private, faith-best institution in the western United States.
Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few also applauded the addition.
“From a basketball standpoint, they’re going to enhance the profile of the conference,” he said. “That’s two to three more high-level RPI games for us, and it will be nice to have another Top 25-level program in the conference.
“We were going to fight any situation where you brought in a sub-150 RPI level program. That doesn’t help you. This is a win-win in that regard.”
Now with nine members, the WCC will adopt a full 16-game round-robin schedule, which will require a significant alteration to its current travel format – particularly with BYU’s refusal to play any athletic contests on Sundays. That will also require an adjustment to the WCC’s postseason tournament in Las Vegas, which includes games on Sundays.
“There has been no decision on that, but we know it will be different,” Roth said. “We’ll obviously have some discussions with our broadcast partner, ESPN. We have talked about options, but we didn’t finish up with, ‘Well, this will work best.’ In the end, TV will decide.”
The Sunday issue will also require adjustments to WCC schedules in baseball and soccer.
BYU will have to find another conference home, or compete as an independent, in softball, swimming and track and field – sports in which the WCC does not sanction championships.
The WCC held a conference call Monday with all eight school presidents to approve the invitation to Brigham Young.
The addition of BYU significantly adds to the men’s basketball profile of the WCC. The Cougars have played in 25 NCAA tournaments, including the last four.
Just last week, BYU had worked out a deal to align itself with the Western Athletic Conference in all sports but football, and secure a scheduling arrangement with several WAC schools to fill out its football schedule as an independent. But the Mountain West short-circuited that move by inviting and accepting WAC members Nevada and Fresno State.
Rather than follow through with that plan, BYU decided the WCC provided a better basketball profile than the severely weakened WAC.
“We were very comfortable with who we are as a conference,” Roth said, “but the landscape changed dramtically in the last month and when we looked at this, it was decided that we simply couldn’t pass this up.”
Roth said BYU “has given us assurances and backed that,” that the WCC will not be used as a way station on its way to another conference affiliation, but said details on that aspect needed to come from WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich. The commissioner and BYU officials will conduct a press conference today in Provo, Utah.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson – whose league has been rocked by the defection of Nevada and Fresno State as well as the deal with BYU falling through – also has a press conference planned today.