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Conference Realignment Officially Comes for BYU

As always, football rules the roost.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 09 WCC Tournament - BYU v Gonzaga Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As widely expected, the Big 12 officially extended membership to BYU, Houston, UCF, and Cincinnati this morning. BYU will formally join the league July 1, 2023.

After taking their football program independent, BYU arrived in the WCC following the 2020-11 season and were largely seen as a nice boost in conference power and rankings. They made the NCAA Tournament in three of their first four years in the WCC and finally returned last year.

And of course, the Zags and the Cougars have played some hard-nosed grind out games, highlighted by BYU’s stunning upset over an undefeated Gonzaga on Senior Night in 2017.

The Big 12 made these moves after the departure of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. Since football is what drives every single decision in the Power 5 conferences, eyeing BYU comes as no surprise. The Cougars play football independently of the WCC, and for the past few seasons have fielded a pretty decent team.

What this means for the WCC going forward is unclear. The Zags recently spurned the Mountain West Conference to extract greater concessions from the West Coast Conference. To a certain extent, we’ve seen the ramifications of those. The Zags only play the two worst teams in the conference once a year (reducing the drag on the overall schedule) and overall, it seems that the WCC basketball programs have improved slightly.

On a scheduling level, BYU’s departure hurts the Zags in terms of seeding, because the two (possibly three) games against BYU were all guaranteed to be Quad 1 or Quad 2 games. Those Quad designations come into play when the selection committee is considering the seed line, and in years in which Gonzaga is not a clear-cut No. 1, it can be a make or break point if the team doesn’t have enough to show for it.

The other hit comes to the overall conference finances. Every team that qualifies for the NCAA Tournament generates revenue for its conference, and even more money depending on how far it advances in the tournament. This payout system was one of the criticisms the Zags had during the MWC flirtation—Gonzaga generates a lot of money for the conference and the rest of the schools don’t do much to show for it. BYU was, on occasion, an extra source of revenue when they qualified for the tournament.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see what the WCC does. The conference primarily consisted of smaller, religious institutions. The addition changed that equation slightly, only in the sense that the BYU’s 30,000-plus student enrollment probably exceeded all of the other WCC schools combined.

Obvious schools on the short-list include Seattle University, a small Jesuit-based school in Seattle. Grand Canyon University is also a name that is thrown around, having achieved some success in the Western Athletic Conference, although there are reservations from many ends about the university’s for-profit status.