The surprise announcement made by USC and UCLA earlier this summer that they are ditching the Pac-12 and heading to the more lucrative Big Ten conference sent shockwaves through the college sports world.
Many felt the move was just the beginning of a wave of changes that would eventually reshape how we think about college athletics entirely. While that hasn’t happened yet, the latest rumblings that Oregon is still checking out the Big Ten mean this topic is far from done being in the limelight.
While conference realignment is almost entirely discussed through the lens of college football, Gonzaga has remained an active part of realignment conversations in the past, with their place in the West Coast Conference growing a bit more uncomfortable as they remain among the sport’s most elite basketball programs.
However, their recent run of success also makes it hard to imagine them absconding to the first conference they find available to them, as they want to be very careful to make the right decision for the entire athletic department.
“I think that they need to make a move, but I also think they can be picky and choosy,” John Fanta, who broadcasts Big East Basketball games on Fox Sports 1, said on the Locked on Zags podcast. “It’s gotta be a priority here of Gonzaga’s because, let’s face it, they are one of the best programs in the country, if not the best program in America, with how well they are run right now.”
“For me, I think with everything that is changing, and with the SEC and the Big Ten swallowing up so much, as a basketball powerhouse you have to position yourself at the big boy table,” Fanta continued. “You do not want to get lost because you’re in a league that doesn’t get respected during a time where league profile and league respect is only becoming more and more meaningful, and so are television dollars.”
Gonzaga has of course had these conversations in the past, even going as far as to get a unanimous vote of support from the Mountain West conference back in 2018, before ultimately deciding to stay in the WCC after negotiating a bigger piece of the NCAAT revenue.
But if the Mountain West is only viewed as (at best) a lateral move, and the Pac-12 is not in a position to make an offer to Gonzaga (which seems unlikely) the best option for Mark Few’s program is the Big East – the nation’s premier non-football conference.
Of course, that comes with it’s own set of hurdles, ones that may ultimately be very difficult to overcome:
“The key element with Gonzaga is, if they join a conference, the geographic footprint is unique and the travel of volleyball, baseball, name those Olympic sports, that becomes a bit of a hurdle,” Fanta continued. “A big hurdle especially for schools who don’t have money on trees like the schools in the SEC and the Big Ten.”
Once again, the conversation around Gonzaga to the Big East presents significant challenges, although the upside in the quality of opponent played from January to early March is absolutely worth if it the staff can figure out a way to make it work.
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.