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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga, Mountain West Conference discuss possibility of expansion

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 28, 2018

San Diego State forward Max Montana fights for a loose ball with Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr., left, and Josh Perkins in a Dec. 21 game. (Denis Poroy / Associated Press)
San Diego State forward Max Montana fights for a loose ball with Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr., left, and Josh Perkins in a Dec. 21 game. (Denis Poroy / Associated Press)

Gonzaga’s name has surfaced again regarding conference affiliation, and this time it’s with a league closer to home.

Gonzaga has had discussions with the Mountain West Conference, athletic director Mike Roth confirmed.

“What I do and have been doing for the last few years hasn’t changed,” Roth said. “Yes, I’ve had discussions with the Mountain West, but I’ve also had discussions with other conference commissioners and A.D. around the country.

“That’s what I’ve been doing to monitor what is our situation and where are things? Where do we stand?”

The Zags currently stand in the West Coast Conference, a league they’ve dominated in basketball for the last two decades. The conference is a collection of 10 largely private, faith-based schools that don’t offer football with the exception of BYU, an independent, and San Diego, which plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

The Mountain West has 11 basketball members and 12 in football (Hawaii). The Mountain West had five NCAA Tournament representatives five years ago, but it has been a one-bid league the last two seasons.

Gonzaga has also been linked to the Big East, a powerful basketball conference, but Creighton, in Omaha, Nebraska, is the closest school to Spokane.

“We’re very much alike when you think about it,” Roth said of the Big East in December. “The thing that hasn’t changed is we haven’t moved and they haven’t invented teleporting.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune first reported discussions between the Mountain West and Gonzaga. The paper mentioned the possibility that BYU, a former Mountain West member, would consider a return in basketball if Gonzaga joins. The paper also reported Zags coach Mark Few is intrigued by the possibility, particularly if BYU follows.

“I guess the adjective I’d use is exploratory,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson told the San Diego newspaper. “Truthfully, what we’re trying to do here is better ourselves and we’re trying to understand what are your goals and ambitions, and what are the Mountain West’s goals and ambitions. Is there something there? … But obviously, they would enhance our basketball enterprise.”

Thompson said he’s spoken to six university presidents and/or athletic directors since August regarding expansion.

Roth said Gonzaga would like to see the WCC adjust how it disperses NCAA Tournament revenues to better reward the team responsible. The Zags have advanced to 19 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and each victory brings in significantly more dollars.

“The vast majority of those dollars go to the conference to be used to operate the WCC office,” Roth said. “We don’t have bowl revenues and our TV package, as is the case with a basketball-only conference, isn’t extremely lucrative. I think people think everybody gets a check and we’ve made X millions of dollars from X number of games and it is divided 10 ways and that’s not the way it works.”

Roth said he continues to “pay attention and monitor” what’s going on across the country and try to gauge what the future holds.

“The crystal ball in college athletics isn’t very clear,” Roth said. “We’re looking at what the landscape looks like and what does it mean. Does that mean another 39 years, going on 40, in the WCC or is it something else? It could be either one of those.”

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