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BYU addition has WCC officials tackling scheduling issues

Beginning this evening in San Francisco, the same city where the Pac-10 recently announced its football divisions and scheduling plans, West Coast Conference administrators will zero in on scheduling issues created by the addition of Brigham Young University.

Consider it a nice problem to have.

BYU will bring punch nationally and a host of strong teams, including men’s basketball to the hoops-driven WCC. The Cougars will also bump WCC membership in 2011 to nine, a clumsy number for scheduling, particularly for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball.

Cumbersome, but hardly insurmountable.

“It’s not perfect, that’s for sure, but the league office has done a very good job of presenting a number of options,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said. “There will be adjustments made by all nine schools to make it work. The options aren’t perfect, but it’s not as bad as some people wanted to make it out to be originally.”

In fact, the WCC formed a task force to study expansion before the latest wave of the conference hopscotch hit last summer – once meeting on the same day the Texas/Pac-10 talk heated up. The task force mapped out various scheduling scenarios, should the right prospective member emerge.

“We’d done a lot of the work already,” WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said. “We had one meeting with (BYU) where we laid it all out, what we’re about, our priorities, strategic vision and if this is what they were looking for, we’d be happy to have you as a member. We’ve been around since 1952, we’ve had the same membership for 30 years. We have a pretty good idea of what we’re about.

“As part of the task force, we had built nine-school scheduling with different geographical models, and we were able to sit down with our leadership and say this is what it will look like.”

The next task is determining scheduling guidelines at this week’s meetings and forwarding recommendations to the school presidents, Zaninovich said: “Will it be a nine-week or 10-week conference schedule? We want to assure schools they won’t have to play three (straight) games on the road multiple times, we want to keep generally to the Thursday-Saturday format, we don’t want schools to have to play back to back. If at all possible, limit the number of flights people have to make.”

Gonzaga/Portland and Loyola Marymount/Pepperdine have been travel partners, but the three Bay area schools (Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara and San Francisco) have rotated with San Diego.

“I think we can protect travel partners, but there are going to be times when we have to split up,” Zaninovich said.

Likewise, teams will probably have to deal with a “split week,” where they play one home game and one road game. When Idaho joined the Western Athletic Conference in 2005, it usually paired with Boise State for travel, but not always. The Vandals once played at Fresno State and returned home three nights later to face San Jose State – two schools roughly 120 miles apart.

“That’s probably something we’ll have to look at to make the guidelines work, but there are some ways of limiting the impact,” Zaninovich said. “If you did have to be on the road in a split weekend, we’re fortunate that our geography allows for some bus trips.”

Next season’s conference schedule will begin at least one week earlier to accommodate the 16-game slate. Gonzaga’s conference opener the last five seasons has fallen between Jan. 6 and Jan. 12. GU has typically used the late-December/early-January time frame to schedule marquee non-conference games (Wake Forest and Oklahoma State this season, Illinois and Oklahoma last season, Tennessee and Georgia in 2008).

“The unfortunate part is you’re playing more league games without your students on campus (due to holiday break), but you’re still playing the same number of games overall,” Roth said. “It does eliminate an opportunity – there’s that positive-negative thing again – but that first week of January is always a tough one to schedule games because most other leagues are already playing conference games. We might have to push more of that (non-conference) schedule into November and December up until Christmas.”

Roth pointed out that BYU adds two games annually against a quality opponent with a high RPI.

The WCC Tournament schedule will be adjusted because BYU doesn’t play on Sundays. No decision has been made, but it’s likely the semifinals will be played Monday with the championship game Tuesday.

The WCC is in the last year of its television contract with ESPN. Zaninovich said discussions are ongoing regarding an extension with ESPN. The relationship with ESPN is huge for exposure, recruiting and scheduling, but not necessarily a financial windfall.

“The reality is the national TV rights-holders will pay a significant amount for football; football ratings are just higher than basketball,” Zaninovich said. “You see all those numbers, the Pac-10 $170 million, ACC $150 million, the huge majority is football driven. (The WCC’s arrangement) is not insignificant, but it’s not a terribly large amount of money. That money gets put into the conference budget and assuming we’re managing things correctly, we run a surplus out to the schools, evenly divided.”

The conference won’t add a 10th member just to make scheduling easier.

“I talked to a commissioner the other day about how this used to be something you talked about every 2-3 years, now it’s every day,” Zaninovich said. “We’re certainly comfortable going forward with nine schools. If a significant opportunity comes about, we’ll always consider it.”

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