For a brief time late in the summer of 2023, it felt like conference realignment discourse surrounding the Gonzaga Bulldogs was over. Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark remarked that, after securing the four corner schools from the Pac-12 for the 2024-25 season, the conference was planning to evaluate their current member institutions before re-engaging in any realignment talk.
However, early into October the conversations were back at the forefront with Yormark pitching Gonzaga as a potential addition as soon as 2024-25, trying to capitalize on the school’s remarkable media success over the past six years while continuing to build the best college basketball conference in the country – a market share Yormark hopes to dominate for years to come in the Big 12.
Hurdles arose almost immediately, with many schools not wanting to rush into accepting Gonzaga right away while believing, in simple terms, that the leverage all rests with the Big 12 and there is little the small university from Spokane can do to force their way into a bigger piece of the financial pie.
Some leverage may have just fallen into Gonzaga’s lap, however, in the form of a quote by Val Ackerman, the longtime commissioner of the Big East, who addressed conference realignment and various other topics on Tuesday – including Gonzaga.
“There’s no better fit for Gonzaga than the Big East,” Ackerman said, according to a tweet from Zach Braziller of the New York Post. “If you look at the kind of school they are, basketball focus, their enrollment, their budget, it’s totally on point.”
Braziller also noted Ackerman saying the conference has stayed in touch with Gonzaga, although what exactly that entails is left intentionally quite vague.
Gonzaga to the Big East has been an oft-discussed match, although most of those discussions have been purely theoretical in nature, with limited proof of interaction between the two sides. The fit is quite obvious, as Gonzaga is a Jesuit Catholic institution that does not support Division 1 football and has enrollment numbers far inferior to the state schools typically associated with conferences like the Big 12.
Meanwhile, the Big East is a basketball-centric conference, loaded with similar academic and religiously affiliated institutions, and with only one football school in UConn – who play independently.
The big sticking point is travel, and even with Stanford and Cal joining the ACC – completely defying any geographical logic to conferences – this is a tough hurdle for Gonzaga to overcome. Big East schools are located, well, on the east coast, including Washington DC (Georgetown) Philadelphia (Villanova) New Jersey (Seton Hall) and of course the Big Apple (St. John’s).
While a few schools are further inland, like DePaul (Chicago) Marquette (Milwaukee) and Butler (Indianapolis) the closest schools geographically to Spokane is Creighton, which is located in Omaha, Nebraska – nearly 1,400 miles from Gonzaga’s campus.
Can that kind of travel situation work for Mark Few’s club? Perhaps, but what about the other Zag programs? Can baseball make weekly trips to the East Coast for three games, while also returning in time for regular Tuesday evening matchups? Will it work for soccer, or tennis? Can Gonzaga’s budget, which would almost certainly increase with a move to a more notable conference, withstand this added travel? Will student-athletes still keep up academically?
These are all the questions AD Chris Standiford, Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh, and Big East leadership will have to weigh when considering this kind of realignment.
While talks don’t seem to be imminent between these two sides, as of right now, the mere presence of the Big East could put pressure on the Big 12 to make a move for the Bulldogs.
All this to say, never believe the dream of Gonzaga moving into a power-conference is dead. Things are changing on a minute by minute basis. Best to keep your head on a swivel.
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.