According to MWC commissioner Craig Thompson, he has spoken with the school about leaving the West Coast Conference, sooner than later, although he cautioned about reading too much into the early talks.
“I guess the adjective I’d use is exploratory. 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.”
The MWC would be a huge step up for Gonzaga in terms of conference opponents. Although it has been a few years since the MWC sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament, Nevada is turning into a perennial dancer, and New Mexico and San Diego State are always threatening. If anything, the overall quality of the conference (and therefore that pesky RPI) would be leaps and bounds better than the WCC.
Gonzaga has become increasingly vocal about the state of affairs in the conference, and this year provides yet another perfect example of the disparity. Gonzaga, despite rolling with a 27-4 record and a top 10 ranking by Ken Pomeroy, will most likely land as a No. 4 seed at best. Although the Zags shot themselves in the foot with their own non-conference scheduling, it did not help one iota that four WCC teams were sub-250 in RPI (sorry Santa Clara, at No. 248 you are thrown in that category). By contrast, the MWC had two sub-250 teams.
Of course, conference realignment is something that is a lot of smoke and mirrors sometimes, but there is a certain truth and urgency to the situation now. Gonzaga, as a program, outgrew the WCC years ago, but they were content to share the same room with the younger siblings. Now, the living arrangement just doesn’t work in Gonzaga’s favor whatsoever.
As the larger conferences add more teams, and the potential for elite non-conference matchups decrease, Gonzaga needs to be proactive about finding a solution that fits the school. Butler, Creighton, Xavier and Wichita State are all schools that found themselves in similar situations, and found new homes in the Big East and the AAC (for Wichita State).
It is certain that we will hear more about this issue going forward, but one thing is certain, we should expect at least one more year of the WCC.
Thompson indicated the WCC is aware of his discussions with Gonzaga but noted they’d have to quickly escalate them for it to happen by next season. The Mountain West usually has its conference schedule completed by early July.
Update from Mike Roth: