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

Published: Wednesday, June 29 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

The conference footprint stretches from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California. "The eight WCC members span the western coast of the United States from Canada to Mexico, from the pine forests of Eastern Washington, to the Columbia River Basin, to the dynamic San Francisco Bay Area, to the sunny beaches of Southern California," according to the league's Web site.

"Until recent changes, The Ivy League, the Pac-10 and the West Coast Conference were the longest-running conferences, as constituted, in terms of membership," Zaninovich said. "That's more of a symbolic thing. What it symbolizes for me is the stability that our conference has had and the alignment between our institutions, something we take great pride in. It's a reason why, frankly, we've had opportunities to expand in the past with other institutions and chose not to.

"Before or after BYU, we feel pretty stable. We don't have a necessity to expand. We're not being forced by the landscape to expand. We're looking for opportunities that fit with what's been a long, stable and very successful partnership among like-minded institutions that we call the West Coast Conference."

All eight WCC members are private, religious-affiliated institutions, like BYU.

Similar but different

While BYU shares similar values as the other members of the WCC, the key element that makes this marriage work is that all the schools are privately owned.

"Our presidents are less concerned with being affiliated with faith-based institutions than being a conference of private institutions," Zaninovich said. "That's more important, and on top of that, undergraduate-focused institutions — that was a big deal, when talking to BYU, for our presidents."

BYU's enrollment is more than 30,000, while the largest in the WCC is Loyola Marymount, which has 9,015 students. The WCC's overall student enrollment is 55,540.

"BYU is a 30,000-student campus, but it's an undergraduate-focused population. It's not a huge research university," Zaninovich said. "That made them similar to what we are."

Zaninovich added that the fact BYU's basketball arena, the 22,700-seat Marriott Center, is so much bigger than any of the other arenas in the league — Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center, which seats 6,000, is the next-largest — has been overplayed.

"The reality is, BYU plays in a 22,000-seat arena, which is different from everybody," Zaninovich said. "Show me a Pac-10 venue, or multiple Pac-10 venues, that are close to that size. BYU has a 22,000-seat building on its campus, which it can fill because it has that many students. It's just an anomaly. BYU, in a lot of positive ways, is different from everybody."

There aren't any other schools, Zaninovich said, that compare to BYU.

"No one else has that large of a student body affiliated with a private church as they are with the international reach that plays FBS football. They're just different. That's one reason why it makes sense for them to have an independent football model. For the rest of it, they see themselves most similar to us, whether that's philosophically, regionally, all of those things. I don't think the size of an arena matters that much. Certainly, we may have capacity issues with BYU for away games, just like Gonzaga does. But that's not a bad thing to have."

Holmoe notes that 58 percent of BYU's alumni live within the four states — California, Washington, Oregon and Utah — represented by WCC schools. Indeed, the Cougars' large fan base is expected to increase attendance at most WCC venues in which BYU plays.

"The WCC is a great fit for us and we feel we are a great fit for them," Holmoe said.

Some of the other major differences between BYU and the WCC? There's the time zones. The eight WCC schools are located in the Pacific Time Zone, while BYU is located in the Mountain Time Zone.

And while the WCC is a predominantly sea-level league, BYU plays home games at an elevation of 4,550 feet — which could be seen as a competitive advantage for the Cougars.

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