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So long, west coast conference

carlson CHRIS


Memo to Zagnation and Zagnauts: Your beloved Bulldogs are once again going for the money. Make no mistake, it’s just a matter of time before they officially accept an invitation from the “new” Big East to join the Catholic Seven non-football playing members of the “old” Big East conference.

Forget about tradition. Forget about rivalries. In the words of motor-mouth basketball commentator, Dick Vitale, “it’s all about the money, baby, it’s all about the money.” Don’t forget, Zag fans, this is the same guy that guaranteed the nation’s basketball watching television audience that Wichita State would defeat Gonzaga in the NCAA Round of 32.

Yes, Gonzaga’s success over the last 16 years has spurred growth in applications and enrollment, and has helped to secure Gonzaga’s financial future. It has also enabled the school to undertake expansion and new buildings. It has become a Harvard business school case study, no doubt, on how to leverage success on the hardwood into success and stature in the competitive world of academia.

Yes, too, Gonzaga has come a long ways from the days in the early 60s when only Board Chairman Harry F. Magnuson’s personal guarantee behind a line of credit kept the doors open and averted bankruptcy. If not for the deep devotion by the late Wallace millionaire and investor no one would even be talking about the Zags today.

So, how much more money are we talking about and is it enough to offset the travel expenses that would come with being so far geographically from the Catholic Seven? The answers are lots more money and yes.

The latest figures available are two years old but they show that the Bulldog basketball program spent $5.3 million and its revenue was $6.1 million. That would put them in the middle of the Catholic Seven——Marquette (which has one national title), Villanova (one national title), Georgetown (one national title), DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s.

Marquette, by contrast had $10.3 million in expenses, but revenue was a nice $15.6 million. Though Gonzaga’s numbers look middling to the new Big East, all these schools see great potential in games with the Zags generating much more revenue because the Zags national following would guarantee more television revenue for all.

Keep in mind that with the possible exception of St. Mary’s, no other school in the West Coast conference spends nearly as much as the Zags. Then there is the factor that coach Mark Few has reportedly wanted to leave the WCC for a number of years in no small part because the lower conference power ranking of the WCC compared to the Big East or the PAC-12 almost always presents a “strength of schedule” barrier that the Zags have to overcome to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

A tougher conference schedule would mean that Few would not have to schedule quite so many tough non-conference opponents.

One suspects that the additional dollars from television will easily off-set and over-come the travel distance barrier. The Zags already charter a large private jet for all of their away games and most Zagnauts are well aware that in order to become a “mid-major” power the Zags already travel great distances for quality games against premier opponents.

There is also a queue forming of other Catholic schools in the mid-west clamoring to join which, with Few reportedly wanting to leave the WCC, means there is behind-the-scenes courting and lobbying going on for the Zags to be the first new addition and the eighth school to join.

Speculation is already rampant among basketball junkies that before the next season the new Big East will have expanded to ten members with Creighton and Xavier joining and the one non-Catholic university, Butler (which made the national championship game two years in a row just two short seasons back) also joining.

If, the Zags indeed do join it would make the most sense to do so quite soon and the “new” Big East might then invite St. Louis to join also, giving it 12 teams that could be divided into two divisions with another one of those lucrative conference tournaments also adding more dollars.

Someone somewhere though should be asking just how much more “success” can the Zags absorb and will there ever be enough? What are the added costs to the student athletes in more long-distance travel? You can also bet that the price of those already expensive seats in the Zags arena will take another exponential jump.

After all, it really is about all the additional money. And by the way, look for the WCC to quickly tender an offer to Seattle University to take the Zags place.

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