Compatible couple: BYU, West Coast Conference have great deal in common

Published: Wednesday, June 29 2011 11:02 p.m. MDT

Editor's note: This is the sixth in an occasional series examining the BYU football program's move to independence and jump to the West Coast Conference in most other sports. Read the first, second, third, fourth and fifth installments.

PROVO — In recent years, and as recently as last summer, the eight presidents of the West Coast Conference schools discussed expansion for their league at length, but ultimately decided not to take any action.

They couldn't have dreamed a school like BYU would be available to add to the conference.

"It certainly didn't cross our minds," West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich told the Deseret News. "BYU's name did come up when we talked expansion, but it wasn't seen as a possibility. We talked more conceptually, about principles related to what we want."

Late last summer, while BYU was moving toward going independent in football and searching for a home for its other sports, the WCC was well-positioned and well-prepared to extend an invitation.

Originally, BYU's plan was to go independent in football and to join the Western Athletic Conference in its other sports. But when news of the plan was leaked in mid-August, the Mountain West Conference hastily extended invitations to WAC members Fresno State and Nevada. Both schools accepted those invitations, foiling BYU's plan to partner with the WAC.

In the ensuing days in August, BYU and the WCC struck a deal. The Cougars officially join the league at midnight tonight.

"It was a mutual courting. We had information about the other of what they were about," said Zaninovich. "For me, I certainly had no knowledge of what was happening with the WAC until that story broke."

Zaninovich said relationships played a big role in the deal being done. He knew BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe when both worked at Stanford years ago. BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson had relationships with the presidents in the WCC.

So Zaninovich placed a call to Holmoe.

"We had been doing work on expansion, and had chosen not to pursue new membership," Zaninovich said. "But we had a full model in place. Those two weeks in August, I reached out to Tom because I had a previous relationship with him. I said, 'Hey, I understand you're looking for a non-football conference.' That was a time when they were trying to figure out what their next moves were and whether they could put a football schedule together with a non-football conference.

"It was apparent to them, when they looked at the West Coast Conference, how closely aligned we were institutionally and basketball and otherwise, and what a good fit it would be. It's sort of like a job interview. You sit down and start talking, and you can tell pretty quick when something is a fit or not.

"One thing led to another and two weeks later, we were in Provo having a press conference. BYU certainly fits that mold very well. I don't think anybody thought of it as a possibility, but we knew what we were looking for and BYU fit that. That's why the deal came together so quickly. The presidents came to a strong consensus pretty quickly."

A conference of stability

The WCC was born in 1952 with the intent of providing a convenient way for five schools in the San Francisco Bay Area — Saint Mary's, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Jose State and Pacific — to play basketball.

Over the next two-plus decades, membership changed dramatically. In 1979, Gonzaga and San Diego joined the league and the WCC held steady with the same eight members for the next 32 years. The addition of BYU marks the league's first change in membership since '79.

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