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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

‘It’s good to be back.’ Stu Jackson brings West Coast ties, ‘established track record’ to WCC Commissioner role

March 6, 2023 Updated Mon., March 6, 2023 at 8:34 p.m.

West Coast Conference commissioner Stu Jackson shakes the hand of Gonzaga University president Thayne McCulloh during a press conference to introduce the new commissioner at Orleans Arena.  (Kyle Terada/WCC)
West Coast Conference commissioner Stu Jackson shakes the hand of Gonzaga University president Thayne McCulloh during a press conference to introduce the new commissioner at Orleans Arena. (Kyle Terada/WCC)

LAS VEGAS – It was a full Monday for newly-appointed West Coast Conference Commissioner Stu Jackson.

Jackson shook hands and shared visions for the WCC during a news conference at Orleans Arena Monday morning, but he was unable stay for the slate of semifinal games that followed later the same day in Las Vegas.

Until April 24, when he’s officially sworn as the WCC’s commissioner, Jackson still has obligations to the Big East Conference, where he’s currently serving as the executive associate commissioner of men’s basketball.

Jackson, a Pennsylvania native and New York resident who’s been the executive associate commissioner for men’s basketball in the Big East Conference, was formally introduced Monday during a news conference at the Orleans Arena.

Gonzaga’s Thayne McCulloh, chair of the WCC Presidents’ Council tasked with finding the league’s next commissioner, said the group came to a “unanimous” decision when selecting Jackson among the pool of candidates.

For much of the last decade, Jackson’s been busy checking in on programs in places like Rhode Island, Connecticut and Washington D.C., but many of his formative years in college athletics were spent in the Pacific time zone.

Jackson’s familiarity with metropolitan media markets where WCC schools are situated made the commissioner position appealing to the former Seattle U and University of Oregon basketball player who got his coaching start on the Palouse as a Washington State University assistant in the 1980s.

“I told the (WCC) presidents yesterday that probably 30 years ago, I would always tell my friends, ‘Listen, if we ever lose one another and we fall out contact’ – this is before social media, before cell phones and all that kind of thing,” Jackson said. “ ‘If you’re ever looking to find me, look in the phone directory in LA, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. I’ll be there, in one of those places.’ So it’s good to be back.”

After almost a decade serving the Big East, Jackson now faces a big task out West, taking over at a critical time for a conference that’s losing one of its key members, BYU, at the end of the 2022-23 athletic calendar.

The next battle for Jackson and the WCC could be fighting to retain another one of those. Gonzaga, which has generated revenue and increased exposure for the conference through its two national championship berths and eight consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, continues to mull options outside of the WCC.

In November, an ESPN report hinted at “growing interest” between Gonzaga and the Big-12 Conference after multiple meetings between athletic director Chris Standiford and commissioner Brett Yormack.

“I think one of the things we were keenly aware of is this dynamic landscape,” said McCulloh. “Certainly it’s no secret some of our members have been in conversation about what’s going to happen down the road.

“(Jackson) has an established track record of working at a conference that’s clearly made a mark and he’s been with them for a significant period of time.”

There are no imminent plans for Gonzaga to leave the conference and any conversations held up to this point have been preliminary. McCulloh said Monday Gonzaga “remains open and interested and engaged” in those discussions, with the caveat the school would only consider conference options that align both athletically and academically.

“We don’t take for granted any kind of a move would be without consequences,” McCulloh said. “… We know other institutions, other conferences may or may not have exactly the same kinds of values. So we have to pay attention to that.”

Jackson used similar language when asked about a potential replacement for BYU, which is moving to the Big-12 in 2023-24, leaving the WCC with only nine members for the time being.

“One is, does the school align with our current members’ values, education standards?” Jackson said. “Then secondly, and candidly, what resources do they bring to the conference? Are they a net add or does it just make us a status quo? I think if any potential institution meets one or either of those criteria, it’s something we owe it to ourselves to consider.”

During his opening remarks on Monday, Jackson highlighted three areas where he hopes to lead change and improvement as the WCC’s new commissioner.

“It’s imperative we are creative in exploring ways we can bring about more national visibility to the conference, identify new revenue streams and improve our policies and our operations in an effort to help our schools win championships,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s experience in college athletics was largely shaped by his time at Seattle U, where he played under Bill O’Connor after suffering an injury at Oregon and transferring schools.

“I called the coach at Seattle U at the time and said, ‘Listen I think I’d really like to coach one day. I’ve enrolled in school. Could I just help you out?’ ” Jackson recalled. “He said ‘Sure, come on up.’ He said, ‘I’ll even give you a scholarship.’ I said, ‘No don’t do that. I don’t want to steal a scholarship. I’m probably not going to be able to play.’ ”

Jackson rehabbed to the point where he could get on the court, scoring his 1,000th career point for the Redhawks before entering the coaching world as an assistant and recruiting coordinator under Rick Pitino at Providence College.

“The amount of personal care and attention I got academically there was very beneficial for me, as opposed to being a Power Five football school,” Jackson said. “There was a stark difference and I always valued that to this day.”

As he settles into his new position, Jackson will address many of the league’s looming questions, including how the WCC will navigate its regular-season schedule and how the conference tournament format will change with only nine members.

Jackson also offered thoughts on how the conference can serve as a conduit to its member schools to help navigate a new Name Image and Likeness (NIL) environment in college athletics.

“The conference role in NIL quite candidly is something at the Big East we’ve struggled with,” Jackson said. “… NIL as a subject matter going forward, there’s been little control or guardrails around it. I don’t really see any coming down the pike.”

“That’s the playing field we have and you’ve got to engage as an institution and it doesn’t necessarily need to be at a high financial level, but I think you need to have a strategy and a plan for your student-athletes, particularly in the major sports.”

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