Remember that zany Zags rumor that got stirred up a few weeks ago when Craig “this is my real hair” Thompson let slip that he’d been chatting with Gonzaga about joining the league? Well, let’s just say the plot is going the way of my mid-section—thickening.
First, an eagle-eyed TV viewer spotted the commish at Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 game in LA—even though Nevada was also in the Sweet 16. Hmm.
Is that Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson watching Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 game in LA? pic.twitter.com/ktCugjB5sL— Sean Star (@seanvstar) March 23, 2018
Then, things really got kicked into gear yesterday when CBS Sports announced that the Zags were most definitely interested in fleeing the West Coast Conference that they’ve dominated since I had a bowl cut and frosted tips...and they’ll be deciding on their ultimate destination in the next two weeks. If the Zags choose to become the 12th member of the Mountain West hoops conference, they could also be playing as early as next season...which might not do much to hurt season ticket sales for ‘18-19.
So, why would the Zags want to jump ship? Well, it has a lot less to do with money than you’d think. Specifically, Gonzaga may only see a net gain of about $375k annually by making a jump—not chump change by any stretch, but not the type of folding money that would make the decision a no-brainer. Instead, the Zags could be looking for a competition boost..and who could blame them—they’ve won 19 regular season conference championships since 1998. They’d see an immediate RPI boost (albeit small) in the league—something that DOES matter, considering that Zags rival Saint Marys won 28 games...including a win over 13th ranked Gonzaga in January and STILL failed to make the tournament field, and conversely the RPI and stature of the MWC would also improve—which helps the Broncos and their conference-mates.
The Mountain West used to be considered one of if not THE premier Group of 5 basketball league, but have seen that status diminish over the last few seasons to the point where the league would have had just one representative in the NCAA tourney had Nevada not got bounced from the MWC tourney by San Diego State. The American Athletic Conference, on the other hand, had 3 teams make the tourney and helped their standing last offseason by adding Wichita State. The Zags would have a similar effect.
Another area where Gonzaga would provide a boost for the conference, pretty much top-to-bottom is in ticket revenue as fans would no doubt pack their respective arenas to watch a (likely) ranked Zags team take on their squads. In Boise State’s case, a return trip to Spokane for fans would be much easier on the wallet than say traveling to San Diego (although less sunny) and about the same mileage as traveling to Reno (although without requiring a tetanus shot). Also, remember that the West Coast Conference venues are tiny—like Kibbie Dome in division 1 football tiny—Mountain West venues, by and large, are at least 10k capacity, WCC venues (outside BYU) are about half that.
Now, this also creates a tougher slate for the Broncos year in and year out, but tougher conference play boosts the competitiveness of its members and looking at Boise State’s recent quick exits from postseason tourneys indicates this could be a very good thing. In the short term—Boise State may indeed get smoked by the Zags (the Broncos lose 3 of their top 4 scorers from this season), but Leon Rice has recruited well of late and if a few of the younger players can take a Chandler Hutchison or even James Webb-esque leap, they should be able to stay in the top half of the conference, and if Gonzaga can help boost the profile of the conference, being at the top of the MWC could still mean a potential tournament berth, even as an at-large.
Would Gonzaga climbing aboard the Mountain West ship be a good thing? For the conference and for the Broncos—absolutely. For the Zags themselves? Probably, and the time is right for a move. SB Nation site The Slipper Still Fits outlines the reasons why Gonzaga may indeed be wise to make a move, for reasons I’ve already mentioned and more. Give it a read—give OBNUG a read, and let us know what you think about the league shakeup.