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BYU adds recognition, but still competitive for West Coast Conference

Published: Friday, July 8 2011 9:22 p.m. MDT

Editor's note: This is the eighth story in an occasional series examining the BYU football program's move to independence and jump to the West Coast Conference in other sports.

PROVO — From a national standpoint, BYU's move to the West Coast Conference should raise the league's profile, change some perceptions about the WCC, and shine a brighter spotlight on the conference.

Will people around the country look at the WCC differently with BYU as a member?

"I think so. We always thought of ourselves as a national conference, certainly with the success of our men's basketball, in particular Gonzaga," said WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, a job he's held since 2008. "When you have one school that does that and commands that kind of national respect, that's one thing. When you have multiple schools in that position, with Saint Mary's, and now BYU, it changes the perception. We feel like we're a multiple-bid basketball league, which puts us in a different category. That gives us some additional national, and international, reach. I think we'll be perceived in a different category and I think that's been earned."

The Cougars will strengthen the WCC, but it will not be dominant, according to Zaninovich, a Stanford graduate who had spent the previous five years as Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Relations at Princeton University.

As a member of the Mountain West Conference for 12 years, BYU was dominant in all sports, claiming a whopping 140 regular-season and tournament championships — Utah was second with 49.

Several titles came in sports in which the WCC does not sponsor, such as and track and field.

The WCC, meanwhile, is especially strong in basketball, baseball, and women's soccer.

So how exactly will BYU's addition to the WCC impact the league?

"Competitively, BYU will come in, in all of our sports as a top-half program, but not a dominant program in any of our sports, which is important," Zaninovich said. "You don't always get what you want, I think, but an ideal candidate for new membership is one that makes you better, but you're still competitive."

Added Zaninovich: "I've said since I got here that our competitive level outpaces our recognition. There are very few conferences like ours where you have national caliber programs in almost every one of our sports."

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe sampled the competitive nature of the WCC in March, when he attended sessions of the league's basketball tournament, held at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

"I like (the WCC)," Holmoe said. "I went to the basketball tournament this year and there was great competition. We're going to add a lot to that. As we come to the table and get better and add more competitiveness to that conference, I think you'll see other teams that will rise. We experienced that with the Mountain West Conference. When the competition got good, teams had to either fall or get better. You saw teams get better."

Every year, the WCC presents the Commissioner's Cup, emblematic of the league's top overall athletic department.

"It's our all-sports award," Zaninovich explained. "Schools are awarded points for where they finish in the standings or where they finish in our conference championship. We aggregate those and we have a men's trophy, a women's trophy and the ultimate is the combined trophy. It's a measure of who has the most successful, broad-based program on an annual basis. Recently, the University of San Diego has done very well, having won three in a row. Before that, Pepperdine and Santa Clara won it."

BYU's impact has already been, and will continue to be, felt in other ways.

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