Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BYU to leave the MWC, head to the WCC in basketball

It's official.

Gonzaga will need to make room. They are no longer alone at the head of the WCC table.

After two weeks of speculation, BYU finally pulled the trigger, as they will officially become a football independent, sending the rest of their sports teams to the West Coast Conference in the 2011-2012 school year.

The question now becomes what happens to the MWC and the WAC. The MWC has lost Utah and BYU, meaning they lost their stranglehold on the Salt Lake City markets, but they will add Boise State, Nevada, and Fresno State. It seems likely that the conference will survive as the WAC reinvented, although the pipe dream of an automatic qualifier into the BCS is dead.

For the WAC, the situation is much more dire. Will they be able to keep the remaining six teams -- Utah State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico State -- as members? Will the MWC poach Utah State? Can they bring in a couple of schools from Conference USA? BYU's decision could be the spark that sets off a chain reaction that will drastically alter the landscape of college basketball's second tier conferences.

As far as basketball is concerned, the 'Zags are well into their second decade of basketball dominance in the WCC. And while the addition of BYU will likely change that, this should still be a major boost to the WCC and, in turn, the Gonzaga program. From our post earlier today:

For starters, BYU is always going to play Utah State, who is a perennial NCAA Tournament threat (two at-large bids and four tournament overall in the last six seasons), so by joining a different conference, they aren't going to be losing a quality resume game. And by joining the WCC, BYU would make the league a perennial two-bid conference, with the potential -- with St. Mary's and the recent successes of teams like Portland, San Diego, and even upstart Loyola Marymount -- for even more.

BYU is much bigger -- 33,000 students, while no one in the WCC has even 10,000 -- and could complicate things with the religious aspect -- BYU is a mormon school, while seven of the eight WCC schools are Catholic while Pepperdine is affiliated with the Church of Christs -- but the WCC is still the Cougars best option.

And don't forget about the league's ESPN deal, which allows Gonzaga to get quite a bit more national exposure than BYU gets in the MWC even if it is coming around midnight on the east coast.
This is huge for the WCC.

Even with St. Mary's emergence and the potential shown by Loyola Marymount and Portland in the last couple of seasons, the WCC has essentially been a one team league. Adding BYU gives them two teams that will almost assuredly be in the NCAA Tournament on a yearly basis. And if St. Mary's can continue their ascendance to becoming an elite mid-major program, the WCC will have a 1-2-3 atop their league that will rival that of the A-10, Conference USA, the MWC, and the MVC, other leagues that are generally considered the first step down from the Big Six.

This should help the conference as a whole, as well. Not only are they adding the Salt Lake City market -- the WCC now can claim residence in Salt Lake City, Spokane (and by default Seattle), Portland, LA, and the Bay Area -- they are doing it at a time when their ESPN deal needs renegotiating. More exposure and better competition makes the conference better. In turn, does that mean that the league's lesser programs can start recruiting at a higher level? Can Santa Clara now get into the conversation when it comes to some of the best players in California?

Think about it. What would the difference be between C-USA and the Sun Belt if Memphis, and to a lesser degree UAB and UTEP, weren't in the league? What would the A-10 be if Xavier, Temple, Dayton, and St. Joe's left? Would the remnants be all that much better than the CAA?

The WCC just became a top ten conference nationally. How's it feel?

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