Conference realignment is shaking up the college sports landscape, and while the moves are almost singularly focused on the NCAA’s biggest moneymaker – football – it has far reaching implications for college hoops as well.
USC and UCLA moving to the Big Ten is the first big domino to fall this summer, and it looks like other teams in the Pac-12 may be headed out the door in the near future, which will cause a ripple effect all around the NCAA.
It puts the Gonzaga Bulldogs – an elite basketball school without football – in an interesting spot. They can of course stay in the WCC without any real repercussions, but the seismic shift taking place around them may help encourage new AD Chris Standiford to try to make a move – either into whatever becomes of the Pac-12 (perhaps a merger with the Big 12, or the ACC, or even the Mountain West) or maybe they try to see if they can make things work out in the Big East.
The Big East is of course the mecca for non-football college basketball programs, and Gonzaga has long seemed like a good fit – if teleportation were an option.
Below is a look at the pros and cons for the Zags potentially heading out to the Big East:
Better competition: This one is a no-brainer. The WCC is improving, but the top of the Big East is still much better than the top of the (non-GU and non-BYU) WCC. That’s not to say anything about the bottom of the two conferences, where the Big East has a significant advantage.
Create Rivalries: The Zags have played many Big East teams in intense situations. They blew out Xavier to advance to the Final 4. They beat Creighton in 2021 behind a monster game from Drew Timme. They lost to Butler on a buzzer beater back in 2013. Playing each of these teams multiple times per year would create some of the best rivalries in the game over time.
Taken More Seriously: I doubt this one matters much to coach Few or the AD, but trolls on Twitter would have a lot less to complain about if Gonzaga’s conference schedule suddenly became one of the toughest in the country.
Helps with Recruiting: Not really an area Gonzaga has struggled mind you, but it would help to know they are one of the best teams in the nation and they will get a chance to play some of the best as well.
Likely Makes the Basketball Better: Can’t really prove this, but if the Zags are challenged more from January into early March, it seems likely to help them in the postseason. As much as the WCC hasn’t hurt them, the Big East would be an improvement in this area.
Schools like Gonzaga: As opposed to a Pac-12/MWC merger situation, the Big East offers schools of similar size and religious affiliation, which would be a nice selling point for a lot of alumni and boosters.
Travel: Basically every con for this move is in some way related to travel, with none of the current member schools anywhere near Gonzaga geographically.
What would they do with Olympic Sports? Would the WCC let them house all their non-basketball programs there? Probably not, so Gonzaga has to bring soccer/T+F/tennis/rowing/etc. to the Big East, which is a much tougher sell to the administration and obviously a lot more time and money spent on travel.
Missing More School: If the rest of the programs have to move to the Big East this becomes a very big issue, but even if not it’s hard enough to miss as much school as the basketball programs do, and traveling even more would make this very difficult.
Less Piece of the Pie (Although More Revenue): The Zags get a large chunk of the WCC’s NCAA Tournament revenue, a percentage that would decrease considerably in the Big East. Of course, the conference as a whole pulls in more dough, so this may end up being a pro.
Environment: Not a factor any of the decision-makers will likely consider (which is sad) but more air travel in the midst of catastrophic climate change is certainly less than ideal.
All told, a move to the Big East has more pros than cons, and if the University can find a way to answer the remaining questions (regarding air travel and the non-basketball programs) this is something that could come together in the next few years.
Andy hosts the Locked on Zags and Locked on College Basketball podcasts, and serves Locked On in a marketing/digital content creator role as well. He lives just outside Portland with his wife Jenna and dog, Tillie.