BYU adds recognition, but still competitive for West Coast Conference

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

"From a branding standpoint, BYU is not just a national brand, but an international brand," Zaninovich said. "They have such a great following and they'll certainly help with the exposure for the league both on our national television platform as well as what they bring with BYUtv."

Portions of the WCC basketball tournament were televised by BYUtv.

"We knew BYU would be interested in that starting in 2012," Zaninovich said. "But they came to us and said, 'We'd like to do some games in 2011. We said, 'Great, let's talk about it.' Everybody was great to work with. I enjoyed interacting with them at our tournament in Las Vegas. That was all positive. It was professional and an impressive production. That was not lost on anyone in the conference, so we're excited about that. For all of those reasons, BYU is a great fit. They'll add an immediate value."

THE WCC'S DEAL WITH ESPN

For decades, the WCC competed in relative obscurity — until 1999. That's when Gonzaga reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament and became a national darling. The Bulldogs have advanced to the Sweet 16 five times since '99, as they burned their name into the consciousness of the country's college basketball fans.

Since that time, Saint Mary's and San Diego have both had impressive runs in the NCAA Tournament.

Zaninovich calls 2006 "a big moment for the West Coast Conference" when the league signed a long-term deal with ESPN. "We're about to launch a new era with ESPN with another agreement," Zaninovich said. "Our ESPN relationship can't be overstated in terms of our strategic goals. It's our primary exposure platform. It is important to be aligned with ESPN for so many reasons. It's been a key element in our success in men's basketball and it will be a key element in the future. Adding BYU and their basketball program certainly can't hurt in strengthening and broadening that relationship going forward."

On June 8, the WCC and ESPN announced an eight-year contract extension that was described as the "best deal signed by any non-BCS league" by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.

The contract will give the WCC at least 48 mens basketball appearances on the ESPN family of networks — 10 more than the conference has averaged the previous three years.

HOW LONG WILL BYU STAY IN THE WCC?

Many have speculated that the WCC is simply a stepping stone for BYU until it can get into a BCS conference.

But Zaninovich is planning on the Cougars calling the WCC home for an extended period of time.

"It's hard to predict what the national landscape will look like next week, next month, 10 years from now," he said. "I feel very comfortable with the assurances we've had from BYU since the first meeting with them in terms of their commitment to independence in football and their place in our conference. I anticipate them being with us for a long, long time, just like the rest of our members have, fitting in very nicely with our culture, athletically and philosophically."

TRAVEL COSTS

With the eight members of the WCC based on the West Coast, the league could incur higher travel costs with the addition of BYU.

"Certainly that will be addressed. I think that depends on the sport," Zaninovich said. "It depends what non-conference games are you replacing with BYU games you're now playing. In some respects, you could save money. Replacing a non-conference game you might have to buy, you could save money."

While the league was studying the possibility of adding BYU, travel costs were one of the factors examined.

"One of the things that was not lost to our presidents was the logistics and accessibility of Salt Lake City and BYU to the conference," Zaninovich said. "If you look at our geography, there are something like 6-8 direct flights a day from each of our markets to Salt Lake. If you look at flight times, the shortest flight is an hour and 20 minutes and the longest flight is an hour and 40 minutes between our major airports and Salt Lake. That was something from an expense standpoint but a student-athlete standpoint, how much time away from class, that was important."

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