Gonzaga ponders future with realignment beckoning

Dec 21, 2022, 8:20 PM | Updated: Dec 22, 2022, 10:22 am
Gonzaga forward Anton Watson (22) gets loose for a dunk against Alabama during the second half of a...

Gonzaga forward Anton Watson (22) gets loose for a dunk against Alabama during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

(AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

              Gonzaga forward Anton Watson (22) gets loose for a dunk against Alabama during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
            
              Gonzaga head coach Mark Few cheers his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Alabama, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
            
              Gonzaga forward Drew Timme (2) reacts after scoring against Alabama during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
            
              FILE - Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh sits in the stands before an NCAA college basketball game between Gonzaga and Texas Southern in Spokane, Wash., Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. There’s nothing else in West Coast college basketball to rival what Gonzaga has created over the last two decades. “I am an undergrad degree-holder of the institution and so have been part of it for over 35 years and I’ve seen sort of what it was before we have experienced the modern era of basketball and what it has been during that time,” Gonzaga President McCulloh said. (AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)
            
              FILE - Gonzaga Athletic Director Chris Standiford walks along the court before an NCAA college basketball game between Gonzaga and Kent State, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. The Zags are being talked about as a potential target for bigger conferences that once never would have looked toward Spokane. (AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Snowflakes were just starting to fall in earnest as students hurriedly erected tents with the intent of camping out for a basketball game more than 24 hours away.

The overnight party was eventually called off over concerns about the snow and frigid temperatures from the late autumn storm. But it still illustrated that there’s nothing else in West Coast college basketball to rival what Gonzaga has created over the last two decades.

“I am an undergrad degree-holder of the institution and so have been part of it for over 35 years and I’ve seen sort of what it was before we have experienced the modern era of basketball and what it has been during that time,” Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh said. “And then some of the things that we now find ourselves challenged with and have opportunities around and it’s very clearly been an important dimension of who we are and how we’re seen.”

Gonzaga is no longer the plucky up-and-comer with the frequently mispronounced name, and it no longer really fits in the “mid-major” category, not with its resume. And with college sports realignment back in play, the Zags are being talked about as a potential target for bigger conferences that once never would have looked to Spokane.

The possibility of a future somewhere other than the West Coast Conference is on the table for Gonzaga, which has been a member since 1979.

“There’s always the need to look and the need to evaluate and it’s not simple math, it’s calculus,” Gonzaga athletic director Chris Standiford said. “I think you just have to stay open-minded and you have to be willing to look at the existing ecosystem and recognize that it’s not static, it’s very dynamic. And you have to anticipate what some of that dynamism means, and not be complacent.”

The talk surrounding Gonzaga is not new. There has been talk in the past of a move to the Big East or the Mountain West. More recently, the Zags have been linked to the Pac-12 and Big 12 following the latest realignment moves involving those conferences.

All those moves were based on football. Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC; USC and UCLA to the Big Ten; the Big 12 adding Cincinnati, UCF, Houston and BYU, which is a WCC member in basketball.

But the realignment juggle may be hitting its peak with regards to football. That’s left the question of what’s next and what still could be done with college basketball, the next most profitable college sport.

Gonzaga wouldn’t bring television market size. It would definitely offer brand relevance.

The Zags’ basketball resume is impressive: two national championship game appearances for the men, 23 straight NCAA Tournament berths, 21 WCC regular-season titles. The women’s basketball program is also regularly ranked in the AP Top 25 and has made three Sweet Sixteen trips and one Elite Eight appearance.

The Bulldogs are regularly strong in other sports like baseball and soccer, all helping to create national recognition.

“I think that’s probably the lesson that I get taught over and over is we underappreciate the power of our brand nationally,” Standiford said. “I think it means a lot to the sport of college basketball. I think it means a lot to the collegiate model because it inspires people to recognize that you still have a pathway to get there and it’s not economically driven, it’s opportunity-driven.”

One of those opportunities for Gonzaga could be with the Big 12, whose commissioner has not been shy about expressing his desire to have a presence on the West Coast. In Las Vegas earlier this month, Brett Yormark reiterated statements he’s made several times about the future of the Big 12 being larger than the four schools joining in 2023.

“We want to go coast-to-coast at some point in time,” Yormark said. “We would love to get into that fourth time zone and we will at some point.”

Yormark also said he views basketball as being undervalued and that he would be open to adding a member that doesn’t play football: “If there is a stand-alone basketball opportunity that creates value enterprise, value for the conference, absolutely.”

His statements appears to point toward Gonzaga, which seems to stand alone in its potential value because of its basketball program, at least out West. But the Pac-12 is also evaluating its future with the pending departure of the Los Angeles schools.

Any substantial consideration by the Pac-12 likely must wait until its next media deals are finalized. The Big 12 finished its TV deals earlier this year.

When asked generally if Gonzaga feels wanted, Standiford simply replied, “yes,” although there are no offers from potential suitors yet.

There is also the possibility that Gonzaga ends up staying put, deciding the WCC — all of its member schools are private, faith-based institutions — is the right fit.

“It’s not as easy or as simple as I think perhaps some people might want to think it is,” McCulloh said. “We are still a small- to medium-sized university that’s in a town called Spokane and our success as an institution has been very interrelated with our community and with our alumni.”

___

AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9), wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) and Cincinnati...
Associated Press

Bengals powered by 3 young stars: Burrow, Chase, Higgins

CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow says the Cincinnati Bengals’ championship window should stay open for years. “The window is my whole career,” the franchise quarterback said matter-of-factly after the Bengals clinched their second straight AFC North title. His confidence is understandable given the offensive weapons available: Receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have gained 1,000 […]
1 day ago
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans speaks at a news conference before an NFL fo...
Associated Press

NFC title game a Philly reunion for 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — DeMeco Ryans’ influence on the NFC championship runs through both locker rooms. Ryans finished his playing career as a linebacker for Philadelphia, earning the nickname “Mufasa” (from “The Lion King”) for the leadership skills that he taught the handful of teammates still on the Eagles that have been carried forward […]
1 day ago
FILE - Alex Hall of the United States, checks the score following his run in the slopestyle finals,...
Associated Press

Winter X daredevils ride fine line between height, happiness

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Freestyle skier Alex Hall’s happy place this winter has been sliding down hand rails outside of offices and schools all over Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and other midwestern spots. The steeper and twistier, the better. Last winter, he found happiness at the Beijing Olympics on a run that nobody mistook for […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Georgia: SUV in crash was for recruiting, not personal use

Georgia athletic department officials say the vehicle involved in a crash that killed a football player and employee on Jan. 15 was to be used only for recruiting activities, not personal use. The University of Georgia athletic association provided that information in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday, saying personal use of the […]
1 day ago
FILE - Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy (15) during an NCAA college football game between Iowa St...
Associated Press

Hurts, Purdy set for college-era rematch in NFC title tilt

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy could be primed for a shootout in the NFC championship game. It’s the first time Hurts — the league MVP finalist for the Philadelphia Eagles — and Purdy, the ” Mr. Irrelevant ” rookie sensation for the San Francisco 49ers, have matched up in the NFL. And […]
1 day ago
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pays his respects to victims of a deadly helicopter crash d...
Associated Press

Russia issue looms for Paris Olympics, Zelenskyy rebukes IOC

GENEVA (AP) — The question of if and how Russia competes at the Olympics hangs over the 2024 Paris Summer Games. Just as it has now for five straight Olympics during Thomas Bach’s leadership of the IOC, whose support this week for some Russians to compete in Paris was publicly challenged Friday by Ukrainian President […]
1 day ago
Gonzaga ponders future with realignment beckoning