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Gonzaga Basketball

Dave Boling: How WCC’s addition of Grand Canyon, Seattle U impacts Gonzaga’s decision to remain in conference

By Dave Boling The Spokesman-Review

Sorry Zags fans, this might not be the major conference realignment news you were awaiting.

No, Kansas and Baylor and Houston aren’t going to be rolling into McCarthey this winter.

For now, the Zags are still in the West Coast Conference. But they have a couple of new playmates starting in the 2025-26 school year.

The news of Friday: The WCC has added Seattle U. and Grand Canyon University.

Don’t confuse that with the WCC’s recent decision to act as a foster conference for Washington State and Oregon State for two seasons.

If the announcement of Seattle U. and GCU being brought on as full-fledged WCC members leaves you a little dry … maybe that’s a good thing.

Status quo is a positive circumstance for perennial winners.

As long as the recent additions don’t cause the conference to inflict the full round-robin schedule of all 13 teams – and the commissioner said the preference is to avoid that – this shouldn’t change things for Gonzaga hoops.

The Zags will still be able to schedule the powerhouses outside conference play, they will still sell out every home game and they’ll still have no impediments to continuing their string of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Commissioner Stu Jackson said Gonzaga administrators fully embraced this move with no negative input.

That indicates that either the additions are OK in the minds of the Zags’ staff, or they are already leaning toward moving to the Big 12 or elsewhere, and the WCC can go ahead and add anybody they want.

As Jackson said, all conference alliances these days contribute to a “fluid landscape” in college sports.

The question that spurred Jackson’s response was, in essence, whether the WCC was collecting spare parts under the assumption that the Zags are vulnerable to being poached?

“We’re not blind to the fact that they’ve been recruited by other conferences,” Jackson said.

As it stands, the Zags are not in a situation that is forcing them into a move. But nobody wants a fluid landscape to turn into quicksand.

Grand Canyon’s Ray Harrison dunks against Saint Mary’s during an NCAA Tournament first-round game on March 22 at the Arena. GCU will see the Gaels frequently when it joins the West Coast Conference in 2025.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Grand Canyon’s Ray Harrison dunks against Saint Mary’s during an NCAA Tournament first-round game on March 22 at the Arena. GCU will see the Gaels frequently when it joins the West Coast Conference in 2025. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

But to be responsible, GU’s administration has to be looking into the future and be contingency prepared (re: The sudden disassembly of the former Pac-12).

Do Seattle U. and Grand Canyon affect any of the conference calculus for the Zags?

Fans will first weigh the competitive aspects. Grand Canyon is considered a sleeping giant. The Antelopes, coached by Bryce Drew, have been to three NCAA Tournaments in the past four years.

Their fan base is huge and avid. Really. Big-time fans. Their campus hosts 27,000 students, with 92,000 more online, making their enrollment about half the population of Spokane.

While Seattle U. has a proud basketball tradition and is a fellow Jesuit university, and thusly well-suited to WCC membership, GCU is a major outlier in its absence of tradition (11 seasons in Division I) and its enormous size.

Competitively, they should be interesting additions. Both could create some challenging road environments.

One of the administrators on a Zoom announcement said he would like to envision the WCC growing into the Big East of the West.

Well, that will take some time and a lot of great basketball. The Big East benefited from the East Coast media markets and rich tradition.

Jackson spent nine years in the Big East front office, so he’s highly familiar with what it takes. Maybe his hiring was a product of prescient foresight.

What fans don’t consider, but conference honchos and administrators clearly see when adding these teams, is the size of the Seattle and Phoenix media markets. Seattle is ranked 13th in the country and Phoenix 11th.

Add those to L.A. and San Francisco, and the opportunity for games to get into living rooms in the Pacific time zone is enormous. Somebody sharp with scheduling and leveraging media deals should be able to pad the conference coffers.

All those Zags fans who can’t get tickets in McCarthey will find a quick flight to Sea-Tac appealing, and also may be inclined to take a February snowbird weekend to Arizona.

Further, Seattle and GCU are good fits for other sports. The geographic layout works far better than GU’s other conference options. It’s not a major dramatic change. And the 2025 season seems like a lifetime away. Who knows where any team will be affiliated by then?

With the talent-rich roster the Zags men have put together for the coming season, it won’t matter where they play or who is on the other team. These guys look like a juggernaut.

So, status quo, for now.