If for some reason you haven’t heard over the past few weeks, news broke that Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson has reportedly been in contact with six schools about potential conference expansion, including basketball powerhouse Gonzaga. This article outlines a few of the main benefits of why such a move would make sense for both parties.
Why It Makes Sense for the Mountain West
It gives the MWC 12 Basketball Teams
This may seem obvious or trivial but it’s important nonetheless. Having 11 teams for basketball has always seemed a bit odd (literally and figuratively) and makes for quirky scheduling. Bumping it up to 12 teams gives them a nice even number and balances the schedule for the conference. In addition to this, another team in the Pacific Northwest provides a natural travel partner for Boise State, which again balances out some traveling logistics. Lastly, Gonzaga bringing basketball and the rest of their Olympic sports fits in nicely as a compliment to Hawaii, who is in the conference as a football-only member.
It instantly makes the MWC the best MBB conference in the west
It was not too long ago that the MWC was a 3+ bid league. That was when San Diego State, New Mexico, and UNLV all sat atop the conference. Though they are still very good teams (as evidenced by the Aztecs winning the conference tourney), their drop-off has impacted the conference, turning it into a 1-2 bid league as of late. Nevada is the class of the conference and Boise State and Fresno State enjoyed successful seasons, but outside of the Wolf Pack, it is difficult to count on a team to compete on a yearly basis at this time.
Gonzaga would change that. All of a sudden, they would undoubtedly be the best team in the conference. Also, there would be two teams that would be considered the class of the conference and show up in the rankings consistently. Factoring in one of BSU, SDSU, UNLV, or New Mexico having a good year and one starts to imagine everyone’s strength of schedule drastically increasing. The top 6 in the conference could easily rival the PAC12 in their current state (which was also a 2-bid league this year) and return the Mountain West to their status of a few years ago. Iron sharpens iron and adding Gonzaga would certainly help the reputation of the conference.
It gives the conference a perennial tourney team and money
If a conference is judged by the number of teams who make the NCAA Tournament (while this is far from the only factor, it is the biggest one at this particular time of year), then a conference would want to add a team that is all but guaranteed to make the tourney each season. Gonzaga has made the tournament every year since 1999, or 20 straight seasons. It’s safe to count them in going forward for the foreseeable future. Nevada was assumed to be in for much of the season and looks to be as good or better on paper next year. That gives the MWC two teams that can be counted on to reach the Big Dance on an annual basis. As discussed above, some years could become even more.
Why does this matter? Money. This article is worth a read, even if it can get a bit complicated. Four years ago, a team earned $1.67 millon just for playing a game. For each round, that number can increase ($8.3 million for a Final Four run!). According to this article, Gonzaga made over $8.5 million in their run last year. Nevada made $1.7 million. Would you rather have $10 million dollars coming in or $1.7 million? (hint: you want the bigger number)
That money is paid out over 6 years and teams are encouraged but not required to share that money within their conference (all per the articles), but the message is clear: getting to the Big Dance equals Big Payouts. The more teams that go, the more money. The more you win, the more money. The more years you go, the more money. If the sport is about wins and money, adding a perennial tourney team like Gonzaga would have a huge impact in that department.
Why It Makes Sense for Gonzaga
How often over their years of dominance has Gonzaga come to tournament time and found themselves lower where they deserve to be? Too often. This year for example, they finished 30-4 and were given a 4 seed to show for it. As Boise State football fans can attest to, life as a mid-major is consistently unfair. However, banding together and making a “best of the rest” conference is as good of a plan as any. Gonzaga has dominated the WCC, including a 17-1 showing this season. Outside of Saint Mary’s and BYU (most years), only one other team finished above .500 this season. Looking at solely conference records, those were the only 3 teams to finish above .500
Looking at the MWC, 7 teams had winning records this season, including six with winning records in the conference. The MWC is clearing a few steps above the WCC and even though it doesn’t have “P5” status, it does have a good reputation as a basketball conference (especially with Gonzaga added as discussed above) and would go a long way towards strength of schedule and seeing discussions.
Similar to above, the Mountain West Conference carries more weight than the WCC. They are on national TV more often and though there are still many late game time starts, there are also a some earlier slots, especially on the weekends. Gonzaga already has a great basketball brand from building a winning program and they would only add exposure by suddenly playing in places like San Diego, San Jose, and Las Vegas.
In addition to this, it would open some recruiting avenues for Gonzaga. Although they already recruit extremely well and have a nice pull in the international channels, having a presence in other areas can’t hurt. While Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado aren’t exactly known as basketball states, it still gives them options going forward. Plus, having a stronger presence in California can only be a positive.
Access to More Money
Just as the MWC would be poised to earn more money with Gonzaga added, so would Gonzaga by joining the MWC. Their TV deal, while far from elite, it a big step up from the WCC. The current MWC deal is $18 a year with 25 MBB games on ESPN networks. Comparatively, the WCC deal has 14 games each year on ESPN networks and the annual payouts on the contract were not reported, but it believed to be severely less. It’s safe to say moving conferences would be a big financial bump. If, which is purely speculation, they can get a incentivized deal similar to what Boise State football has, they have a chance to earn even more.
Again, the pairing seems to make almost too much sense when looking at the big points. There are some drawbacks of course, but they are far outweighed by the mutual benefits. In addition to this, the talks appear to be serious and ongoing:
Yep. Almost everybody I talked to in Vegas thinks Gonzaga will end up in the Mountain West. Only question most have is whether they can get it done for next season. https://t.co/yhnojd7MOq— B.J. Rains (@BJRains) March 11, 2018
Your turn: What are some other benefits to the MWC adding Gonzaga? What type of incentives might it take for a deal to get done? Discuss in the comments below.