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Sports >  NCAA basketball

Q+A: New Gonzaga A.D. Chris Standiford on Mark Few’s suspension, conference realignment and NIL

New Gonzaga athletic director Chris Sandiford, shown during a June press conference, has had an eventful first seven weeks on the job.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
New Gonzaga athletic director Chris Sandiford, shown during a June press conference, has had an eventful first seven weeks on the job. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

New Gonzaga athletic director Chris Standiford offered a one-word description of the first seven weeks on the job.

“Dynamic.”

It’s certainly been one of the more eventful spans for Gonzaga’s athletic department. Since being promoted to athletic director on Sept. 1 to replace the retired Mike Roth, Standiford has had several important issues land on his desk.

Standiford’s workload has included COVID-19’s continuing impact on attendance policies at sporting events, the early impact of name, image and likeness on the department, men’s basketball coach Mark Few’s suspension following a DUI citation and Gonzaga’s name surfacing again in conference realignment.

Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson recently told a Boise sports radio show that discussions with Gonzaga aren’t dead. The MWC made an unsuccessful run at Gonzaga a few years ago. Does BYU’s exit for the Big 12 in 2023-24 make the MWC a more appealing option?

The Big East, one of the power six basketball conferences, is expected to discuss expansion with its Fox television deal set to expire in 2025, according to the Athletic. Many believe GU could be at the top of the Big East’s list.

On Monday, Standiford boarded a plane for the Bay Area to attend WCC meetings. Earlier Monday, he made time for a wide-ranging Q&A with The Spokesman-Review.

Q: How would you describe the first seven weeks on the job?

CS: Honestly, there are some things that have gone really, really well. It’s been a huge opportunity for us to be able to have Mike step out the door and have our departmental reorganization take place quickly. We were able to make changes right away so everybody is playing in a slightly different position than they used to. Everything is really clicking. We have great people that are super talented.

Q: Can you discuss how the decision was reached and the reasoning for Gonzaga suspending Few for two exhibition games and the season opener?

CS: I don’t want to get into the specifics of the why, but I will say it was very well considered. It wasn’t an easy decision nor a quick decision, nor was it contrived the way some media people have speculated. I think most coaches understand to live coach your team, to say that this isn’t a serious suspension or doesn’t have a consequence or an impact on a team is for others to judge, but it’s not trivial. Mark’s reaction and his response has been everything that has been represented in his statements (in Gonzaga releases).

Q: Gonzaga’s name has surfaced recently in realignment chatter. The Big East could be a fit for basketball, but there are so many other considerations involved, including Creighton being the closest school to Spokane. Is there a way to make it work?

CS: First and foremost, there’s a lot of change that’s going to happen in the next eight weeks, 18 months, that will inform a lot of these discussions. There will be some leagues that get larger and possibly express a larger geographic footprint.

The Big 12 is certainly not done yet. Those things will all inform what the answer to that question is. If everybody stays in the traditional eight to 12 (range for membership) and doesn’t push into 16, that makes it more challenging. If you start looking at geography in a nontraditional way, I think there are a lot of things that are possible.

Q: The Mountain West is apparently showing interest in GU again. Does BYU’s departure from the WCC change Gonzaga’s outlook?

CS: It’s a super dynamic time. I don’t think there’s enough static analysis that can be done to make it just about BYU leaving the WCC and does that make the Mountain West a better alternative. It’s a time where we have to be very open to conversations and evaluating the landscape. Change will continue to happen. Making decisions won’t necessarily be made on known facts. You also have to evaluate what could happen next.

Q: Gonzaga is requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours to attend games. How has that been received by fans and boosters? Has it cost Gonzaga any season ticket holders or booster dollars?

CS: No to the latter question, but certainly there are people on both sides of the issue. Most people understand and respect the position of the institution, considering we’re in the state of Washington and generally working under the direction of the governor. We communicated (GU’s policy) as early as possible. There’s been a large, supportive group and a handful that were really disappointed and maybe made choices not to participate this year. We will work with them and create an opportunity to still be part of Zag nation and welcome them back when the time is appropriate.

Q: Regarding NIL, what were you expecting and how has it turned out thus far?

CS: What I expected and what happened is pretty much well aligned. I don’t know if I fully anticipated some of the shock value of some of the deals that were (announced) in the initial days. The part that has been as I would expect is when you have really high-level athletes that anticipate having pro careers, they’re cautious. They want to be careful not to engage in relationships that damage their brand, that they’re aligned with their values.

Our guys have been really cautious and contemplative to make sure they’re getting good guidance and doing the right thing, and at the same time they’re not afraid to engage in it. It takes awhile to organize deals. Generally speaking, NIL is a really healthy growth in college athletics to create opportunities. A lot of people thought it would immediately commercialize college athletes almost that they were professionals. I didn’t see it that way.

Q: Is there anything in the works as far as adding to the school’s Hall of Fame, retiring or recognizing uniforms of GU standouts?

CS: It is seven weeks in and that’s something that’s very much a top-of-the-agenda type of topic. Definitely the jersey recognition in the arena is an ongoing initiative that will continue. The reinvigoration of the Hall of Fame – I think the last class was in the mid-1990s – definitely is a high priority and one we want to do with a great deal of consideration and execute it properly. The idea of celebrating successes of the past and the people that brought them to the university is a high priority.

Q: Have you used the hotline to Roth very often?

CS: I’ve been really respectful of the bat phone, but he’s a trusted confidant and great mentor. Of course, he’s been there, picked up the phone every time I’ve called. The last six weeks has had a few trying times, but I have felt incredibly well supported by the administration, donors, trustees and certainly Mike and the coaches and staff. I just need Mike to stay within cell range. He likes to go into the mountains. I think he’s been to four states in various pursuits of different types of animals and fish.

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