PROVO — It’s been seven years since BYU bolted the Mountain West Conference for the West Coast Conference.
According to a report that Gonzaga might leave the WCC for the Mountain West, there's a chance the Cougars would consider a return to that league.
The Mountain West confirmed Wednesday to the San Diego Union-Tribune that the Zags are interested in being part of an expanded Mountain West, adding that several sources have said that Gonzaga coach Mark Few “is involved in the Mountain West discussions and intrigued by the possibility, particularly if BYU follows.”
Sources contacted Wednesday night by the Deseret News say they haven’t heard anything about the Cougars leaving the WCC, a faith-based conference that BYU joined in 2011-12 when the football program went independent.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson told the Union-Tribune’s Mark Zeigler, “Since August, I have spoken to six university presidents and/or athletic directors that have called inquiring about whether we are going to expand, and the Zags are one of them. I guess the adjective I’d use is exploratory. Truthfully, what we’re trying to do here is better ourselves and we’re trying to understand what are your goals and ambitions, and what are the Mountain West’s goals and ambitions. Is there something there? But obviously, they would enhance our basketball enterprise.”
According to Zeigler, “Thompson said BYU was not among the other schools that have contacted him about expansion, but several sources indicated that BYU — which went independent in football in 2011 and plays in the WCC in most other sports — would consider a return to the Mountain West at least in basketball if Gonzaga joins.”
Attempts to contact Mountain West officials Wednesday night were unsuccessful.
“We are aware of the exploratory conversations the Mountain West Conference has had with Gonzaga,” WCC officials said in a statement. “In today’s climate, the topic of conference membership and potential realignment is on the agenda of almost every Division I conference, including the West Coast Conference.”
Few has expressed his frustration publicly about the WCC because, in part, the money that the Zags bring into the league, including NCAA Tournament revenue, is split evenly among all 10 conference members. Gonzaga lost in the NCAA title game last season and earned more than $8.5 million for reaching the Final Four.
BYU coach Dave Rose said he has had conversations with Few about the situation.
“He feels that our addition to the league has really helped the national profile (of the league),” Rose told ESPN 960. “But it still doesn’t put him in a position they want to be in. It’s a financial commitment that he believes needs to be made.”
Rose added that if Gonzaga were to leave the WCC, “it would have quite an effect, obviously. Gonzaga is a national name, a national brand, a national power, one of the most consistent programs in the country. It would be a real hit to the West Coast Conference.”
Would BYU move back to the Mountain West?
“I don’t know if they would invite us or if that would be something that’s possible. That’s way above my pay grade,” Rose said. “I was told about six hours before we actually left the Mountain West Conference and went to the WCC.”
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe told the media during a roundtable question-and-answer session in January that he and Thompson have been on the NCAA basketball tournament committee and that the Mountain West’s hard feelings toward BYU have thawed since 2010 when the Cougars announced they were leaving the league.
Rose said Gonzaga's perspective on the world of college basketball isn't the same as BYU's.
“Mark’s in a different situation than we are," he said. "We’re an important auxiliary to the university. Mark’s basketball program at Gonzaga is the face of the university. That’s a little different.”
Rose has seen BYU play in three different leagues since he joined the program as an assistant coach in 1997 — the Western Athletic Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the West Coast Conference.
“I don’t think we’ve ever identified BYU basketball as part of the league we play in,” Rose said during the radio interview. “This has been a real challenge for us, perception-wise because we left a league that is perceived maybe to be a better league to go to a lesser league. The only thing that’s better in the Mountain West Conference than the WCC is the attendance. Other than that, I’d love to have a challenge between the Mountain West and the WCC so our fans could actually see how comparable the leagues really are as far as on the court play.”
The women's portion of the WCC Tournament tips off Thursday at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, while the men's tourney begins Friday.