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West Coast Conference announces big scheduling changes for 2018-19

There is a fair amount to unpack here.

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs BYU Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The West Coast Conference announced changes to the men’s basketball scheduling and the format of the men’s and women’s basketball championships. The scheduling was passed by the Presidents during a March conference call.

Let’s break down the biggies:

The conference will now only be 16 regular season games

This is the big as all get out inclusion. Now, despite 10 teams, the WCC will not play every single opponent twice. Specifically: “Every institution will play seven WCC institutions twice, while playing one member at home and another away – based on approved criteria.”

What this means is for a team like Gonzaga, they would avoid playing the bottom of the league (Pepperdine), losing two potential massive hits to the RPI. In its place, it allows the Zags to schedule two extra quality non-conference opponents. This is an important part, considering many of the other major conferences are expanding to 20 conference games.

BYU head coach Dave Rose, who chaired the thinking group on these changes, had this to say: “Although it is unique for us to be playing fewer Conference games while other conferences are adding games to their schedule, the disparity in RPI from the top of our league to the bottom is larger than any other conference’s. We believe this approach will allow all 10 of our teams to schedule based on the current state of their program, and all 10 of us can go win more games – which will help everyone.”

There are new restrictions on the non-conference slate

Most of these are pretty easy, but they are also going to spur the lower end teams to engage in some actual scheduling dances. First up, starting in the 2019-2020 season, each WCC team will have to play in a multi-team event (a non-conference tournament), play more home games than away games, and schedule no more than two non-Division I opponents per season. Portland, for example, scheduled three D-III opponents this season.

Perhaps the biggest notice for the bottom of the barrel teams in the conference is that the WCC must approve all guarantee games, or the games in which a WCC member is paid to play at the opponents venue.

The first two seeds get a bye until the semifinal round in the conference tournament

This is how the tournament used to operate in 2011 until BYU joined in the WCC fray and forced changes. Since the 2011-12 season, the top two seeds received a bye until the quarterfinals. Now, the top two seeds only have to win two games to secure the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Putting on the speculators hat, this seems like a way to ensure that the top of the league will get into the NCAA Tournament as much as possible—extra important if Gonzaga leaves for the Mountain West and your flagship programs are Saint Mary’s or BYU, who in recent years have needed auto-bid or bust.

All of these changes are good news going forward, the question is whether or not this is too little too late. Mark Few and company have been clamoring for the league to hold its members feet over the fire with regards to improvement, and there has been slow, to little, change across the board. Now, with the Mountain West Conference aggressively sniffing around Gonzaga as of late, these changes look to cement and protect the top of the conference. If that is enough to keep Gonzaga around remains to be seen.