There has been some talk over the years about whether Gonzaga Basketball should remain in the WCC or not. Here’s a look as to why staying the best move for the program.
Gonzaga Basketball program has been one of the most dominant and consistent in all of college basketball over the past decade, posting a winning percentage of 86% and appearing in every NCAA tournament over that span.
It’s been one of the biggest Cinderella stories in college basketball, dating back to their run in 2000. Head coach Mark Few has not only not taken bigger jobs over the years but has turned the Bulldogs into a landing spot for five-star prospects out of high school.
Despite those impressive stats and is considered one of the favorites to win it all in three of those seasons, the team has never won the prized National Championship, leading some to wonder if they really are as good as their record shows.
While coach Mark Few and his staff have done a great job ensuring that they play some of the top teams across the country during their non-conference schedule, it is their own conference, the West Coast Conference (WCC), where they have dominated the most. The team has won the conference championship in eight of the last ten years and the program is seemingly only getting stronger, while the majority of the conference can’t keep up.
Due to this, many people across the college basketball community have proposed the question – why don’t the Bulldogs leave the WCC and join a stronger, deeper conference?
Not an easy question for Gonzaga Basketball
While it’s definitely a fair question, it’s just simply not as easy as it sounds. Firstly, let’s break down what conferences they could move to that would make sense from a geographical perspective. Gonzaga is located in Spokane, Washington, which would give them two options: the Pacific-12 Conference (PAC-12) or the Mountain West Conference (MWC).
One fact many people often forget about is that both the NCAA and power conferences make the majority of their money from football, and Gonzaga does not have a football program. If the conference does not profit a ton from adding Gonzaga, why would they allow them to join?
On another note, Gonzaga doesn’t have a large TV market, so they wouldn’t generate a ton of additional viewership or income by adding the Zags to the mix. These two points alone are the reasons why they could never make the move to the PAC-12, so that eliminates one of their two options.
This brings us to the Mountain West Conference. While the concern of Gonzaga not having a football program is still relevant, it isn’t quite as big of a deal with the MWC in comparison to the PAC-12. The MWC still generates a lot of income from football through programs such as Boise State, but they don’t rely on the income of their football programs to the same magnitude as that of the PAC-12. Adding Gonzaga to their conference for all sports (minus football) *COULD* make sense for the conference – but would it make sense for Gonzaga?
Speaking from a basketball perspective, the overall depth of the MWC is undeniably stronger than that of the WCC. The majority of teams in the MWC (82% of them, to be exact), have appeared in an NCAA Tournament since 2010, while only 30% of the teams in the WCC have made an appearance. On the flip side, just because nine out of the eleven teams from the MWC have appeared in an NCAA Tournament over the last decade, it does not mean they would consistently give Gonzaga a good game at this point in time.
While there isn’t much of an argument to the WCC being a deeper conference than that of the MWC, one could argue the top three teams in the WCC are just as good, if not better, than that of the top three teams in the MWC. Both Brigham Young University and Saint Mary’s University bolster impressive basketball programs that seem to only be getting better, as seen by their net ranking when the 2019-2020 season prematurely came to an end.
Gonzaga ended the season as the number one ranked team, while Brigham Young was 8th and Saint Mary’s was 31st. In comparison, the MWC had San Diego State ranked 4th, Utah State 40th, and Nevada 89th.
So while the depth is stronger in the MWC, would teams like Utah State, Nevada or even Boise State really challenge Gonzaga? I would argue Gonzaga is a massive tier ahead of those schools, leading to their only challenge in-conference being San Diego State. Is it worth the move to the MWC just to play San Diego State two times per year when they could schedule them for a non-conference game if they wanted to do so? I don’t think it is when you can play both Brigham Young and Saint Mary’s two teams each per season.
Ultimately, this debate comes down to the two things that have been discussed: financial gain and strength of competition. Gonzaga doesn’t have the TV market or a football program, so from a financial perspective, a move really doesn’t make much sense.
As well, Gonzaga was paid handsomely by the NCAA to stay in the WCC, so this gives me even more reason to believe they will not leave the WCC anytime in the next 10-20 years. From a competitive standpoint, the overall strength of competition in the MWC isn’t strong enough to make the move, as Brigham Young and Saint Mary’s give Gonzaga an equal if not greater challenge than the majority of teams in the MWC would give them.
While I am sure there are internal factors between Mark Few, the school, and the WCC I haven’t addressed, to me it is clear that the Gonzaga Bulldogs are in as good as a spot they can possibly be in with the WCC, and I can’t see them leaving anytime soon.
So to the Zags fans out there – embrace your rivalry with the Gaels and the Cougars, as it should only grow as the three teams continue to bring more and more relevance to the WCC.