The wave of conference realignment has pulled Gonzaga’s name into the discussion.
At a meeting in New York on Sunday, presidents and athletic directors of the Big East Conference’s seven Catholic, non-FBS schools discussed numerous options, including the possibility of leaving behind the new-look Big East and creating a basketball-only conference, according to media reports.
The seven schools – DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova –would presumably need additional members and schools that could be considered include Xavier, Butler, Saint Louis, Creighton and Gonzaga. ESPN.com reported that Gonzaga would “love” to be part of a part of “a national, branded basketball conference.”
At the very least, Gonzaga is keeping a close eye on the latest round of conference shuffling.
“Gonzaga is paying attention and we have and will continue to monitor what’s going on in college athletics and what it means for Gonzaga in all aspects,” athletic director Mike Roth said. “Beyond that, Gonzaga doesn’t have a crystal ball to say what’s going to happen, but we want to pay attention and be able to position ourselves best for the future.”
A basketball-only league would have cachet with past national champions Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova, but a ton of questions remain unanswered at this point. As always when the topic is conference realignment, money is the primary consideration. The Big East’s basketball TV contract with ESPN expires at the end of this season and the conference’s football contract ends after the 2013 season. Would a basketball-only conference command a lucrative TV contract? What becomes of the Big East brand name? What is the impact on the Big East’s current and future NCAA Tournament revenue? Would Gonzaga be on the radar when other options are closer geographically? Do the basketball-only schools have the voting power to pull off such a move?
From Gonzaga’s perspective, a move would almost certainly involve all sports, not just men’s basketball and women’s basketball, and lengthy road trips to the East Coast. The closest of the seven schools would be Marquette, located in Milwaukee, and DePaul, in Chicago. GU’s longest trip in the WCC is a 2½-hour flight to San Diego, which joined the WCC along with Gonzaga in 1979. After decades of stability, the WCC added BYU last season and Pacific is scheduled to join next season.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to all of this,” Roth said.
The seven Big East schools are concerned about the direction of the conference, which has undergone dramatic membership changes.
“How do we as an elite basketball program fit into the landscape of this football dominated environment? I don’t have a complete answer for you, but that’s the question,” said Marquette A.D. Larry Williams in a Q & A on espnwisconsin.com. Williams was Portland’s A.D. from 2004-2011.
Of the idea of a conference of basketball-only schools, Williams said, “Everything’s on the table. Everybody’s got a different opinion on whether it’s when or if. We’re discussing them all, we really are. First thing we want to do is our assumption is this Big East model will work, but we’re uneasy about it because it’s new. We want to test it, to poke it, to kick the tires a little bit.”