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Gonzaga University Athletics

Commissioner Stu Jackson: ‘It’s not a bad place to be in the WCC’

West Coast Conference Commissioner Stu Jackson, left, and Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh shake during a news conference to introduce Jackson at Orleans Arena.  (Kyle Terada/WCC)

The basketball-driven West Coast Conference hasn’t been sitting idly on the sidelines while football and the pursuit of media rights riches largely steer the conference realignment bus.

The WCC announced in December the addition of Washington State and Oregon State in men’s and women’s basketball and numerous other sports as affiliate members for the next two years after 10 of 12 Pac-12 schools bolted for the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC.

That bumps the WCC basketball roster next season to 11, an odd number like the nine currently that makes it more challenging to assemble the conference schedule compared to having an even number.

“On the men’s side, it’s likely to be an 18-game schedule,” commissioner Stu Jackson said, noting that details are still being finalized. “And on women’s side, it’s likely to be a 20-game round robin.”

Scheduling was one of many topics/issues that Jackson discussed in something of a state-of-the-WCC address earlier this week at the conference tournament in Las Vegas.

Regarding the difference in the number of WCC games for men and women, Jackson said, “it just makes more sense. Certainly, both of those schools coming into the conference provides more depth and strength to the women’s conference. On the men’s side, I make no secret about this, our goal is to try to achieve as many units and invitations to the NCAA Tournament as possible, and those invitations are directly dependent upon our ability to both perform and enhance our metrics.

“And if we play a 20-game round robin with the men, there are certain situations for some people where the metrics are going to get compromised and that’s not in our best interests either competitively or financially.”

Following the 2018 season, the WCC adopted an unbalanced 16-game conference men’s schedule that created two additional nonconference scheduling opportunities. Gonzaga each year has played seven WCC foes twice and two projected to finish toward the bottom of the standings once to avoid a pair of probable matchups against teams with sub-250 NET rankings. The WCC also restored rewarding the top two teams with byes into the tournament semifinals.

In an 11-team WCC, the GU and WSU men probably will face eight opponents twice and two opponents once to reach 18 games.

Gonzaga/WSU and Portland/Oregon State would make obvious travel partners, but Jackson anticipates next year’s schedule will be “similar to this season. With 11 members, it’s a little dicey to try and do (travel partners).

“We’ll make every attempt to reduce travel and reduce costs. The conference office is not in a position where we want to spend our schools’ money. We want to make it as efficient as we can.”

The Oregonian reported Washington State and Oregon State are collectively paying the WCC $1.16 million, $175,000 of which is for men’s and women’s hoops, over the next two years to become affiliate members in 12 sports. If the two schools decide not to participate in the WCC in 2025-26, they would be responsible for $125,000 collectively in addition to the per-sport fees.

“They have an out, right, but certainly there’s a penalty for that out,” Jackson said.

Former WCC member BYU is in its first season in the Big 12, which has been in discussions with Gonzaga about a potential move for about 18 months. Jackson, who has been on the job for nearly a year, isn’t surprised GU is drawing interest.

“It’s just something you have to deal with in the moment,” said Jackson, who was an assistant men’s basketball coach at WSU in the mid-1980s. “That being said, we have to control what we can control and if we continue to add full-time members along with our affiliates it’s going to strengthen our conference and maybe in some way deincentivize schools from going elsewhere. It’s not a bad place to be in the WCC.”

Jackson said WCC expansion options could depend on what unfolds in the next wave of realignment.

“All Power Four conference schools are not created equal,” he said. “You have some schools that have budgets upward of $100 million, but you also have schools that are in the $50-$100 million range. And depending on what the financial requirements are going forward, perhaps those in the $50 to $100 million range may not think the best thing to do is stay where they are. Maybe they would consider realigning somewhere, we don’t know. That’s how unpredictable and fluid this landscape is.”

One of college basketball’s hot topics is about potentially expanding the 68-team field for March Madness. Last August, Jackson was named to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee, which supervises tournament qualifications and selection procedures and reviews tournament-related committee recommendations.

“If you talk with some people, it’s inevitable, and then there are others that feel the tourney is the size it should at,” Jackson said. “If expansion is an option that we’ll discuss, in my mind the maximum number would be 80 because … it’s sort of an easy add on because you would just extend the First Four to additional sites to get to 80.

Jackson added that the tournament is landlocked between Selection Sunday and the Masters “and neither one of those is going to move. The tournament, at least in my mind, needs to fit in that window.”