Why Gonzaga should use Notre Dame football’s scheduling model and pursue alliance with Big East or Big 12

It’s not clear how or why the latest (and fleeting) Gonzaga-to-Big-East. The rumor surfaced late last week, but for a day or two there was some confusion as to whether something was brewing. It is not. Multiple sources reiterated to CBS Sports that nothing material is happening between the two entities, at least for now.

But let’s talk about Gonzaga, because the school could soon be in worse shape than in the last decade. It is in these last 10 years that Gonzaga has promoted its position at the national level and maintained its viability as a power. The Bulldogs are coming off their 23rd consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament; that ranks only behind Kansas (32) and Michigan State (24) with the longest streak in men’s college basketball. The Zags have made seven straight Sweet 16s, the best of any school in men’s varsity hoop, and have posted a No. 1 seed in five of the last nine tournaments. His average results on KenPom.com over the last 10 seasons: 7.4, easily the best.

By any objective measure, Mark Few is overseeing a top-five show and has been for years. The only thing missing is an NCAA championship…and potentially an improved scheduling roster. Maybe these things are connected.

Gonzaga has been bolstered in recent years by BYU’s inclusion in the West Coast Conference, which happened in 2011. In 2023, the Cougars will head to the Big 12. The WCC won’t be able to replace BYU with such a great program. . As things stand now, Gonzaga could lose two or three crucial Quad 1 level games in his league. Elsewhere in the WCC, San Francisco just had its best season in a generation…and its coach left for Florida. Saint Mary’s remains a worthy contrast, but Gaels aside, there’s no guarantee the WCC will be any stronger than it has been since joining BYU. Average WCC ranking as a league, per KenPom, since joining BYU: 10th out of 32. In the 15 years prior to joining BYU, ranked 13th.

After falling short of a national title for the second consecutive season, Few won’t sit idly by and will accept GU’s situation in the WCC while BYU is packing their boxes. I wouldn’t 100% rule out Gonzaga joining the likes of the Big East one day, but it’s not imminent and on many levels it’s not practical.

So what about this? A non-conference programming alliance between Gonzaga and the Big East. If the Big East can’t offer more than a couple of games, then maybe Gonzaga will go bigger and try to do two games with the Big East and the Big 12. It would serve all sides and improve the product of college basketball. It sure would make January and February more attractive. What Notre Dame and the ACC are to football, Gonzaga and the Big East (and/or Big 12) could be to college basketball. Why those two leagues? The Big East will soon have the fewest members (11) of any power conference. The Big 12 will soon go from 10 to 12 (and could be at 14 for two weak seasons with Oklahoma and Texas), but it’s likely to be a tamer partner than the Pac-12.

If you’re wondering why Gonzaga to the Pac-12 isn’t a starter, two reasons: 1) Gonzaga doesn’t have football 2) Gonzaga joining the Pac-12 would make Gonzaga, at worst, the No. 3 program in that league . Many schools would be negatively affected by Gonzaga’s inclusion because the only thing that Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, California, etc. have on Gonzaga right now: the only thing — is his Pac-12 affiliation. Sources said the Pac-12 has never informally considered adding Gonzaga, based on the premise that more than half the league would likely automatically decline an invite.

As for Mountain West, the jump isn’t considered good enough to be worth the move for the Zags. Ken Pomeroy told CBS Sports that he did the research for Gonzaga in 2018 and compared what Gonzaga’s rating would have been in Mountain West based on data from the previous three seasons to what Gonzaga actually did in the WCC in that same span.

“It was pretty close,” Pomeroy said. “I think in that analysis, he might (have) been a little bit more inclined to Mountain West, which came out a little later.”

This leaves Gonzaga down to a catch-22. Big enough to have established its bona fides as a non-conference opponent, but not enough national appeal (this is where not having football hurts) to validate being a financial asset.

“Gonzaga’s dilemma is, sure, the Big East would love to have Gonzaga for basketball, but you don’t want all the rest,” an industry source told CBS Sports. “If you’re the WCC, you don’t want everything else and not basketball.”

Gonzaga has 18 athletic scholarships. The men’s basketball program funds the entire athletic department. It would operate permanently in the red (potentially severely in the red) if it joined a league with a geographic footprint as drastic as the Big East. It’s not sensible for golf, soccer, and tennis teams to fly to play in St. John’s and Providence. More context to consider: The Big East’s TV deal with Fox runs through 2025. Over the next year, the pre-negotiation stage for the next deal will play out behind the scenes. Big East teams currently make about $4 million annually on that deal.

The resolution to follow for Gonzaga, if he can pull it off, is to adopt a Notre Dame-type programming model. He could benefit financially, perhaps getting a small piece of a restructured Big East deal and improving his standing nationally in the process.

In football the situation is a bit different, of course. The ACC wants Notre Dame. Desperately. He would practically restructure his conference charter if he could get the Irish to abandon independence and join the ACC as a full-time football member. Shy of that, Notre Dame sits in five games on average each year against ACC schools. It’s working fine for both. In basketball, Gonzaga may not bring as much prestige as Notre Dame, but he can bring a team that regularly competes for the top spot. That should be attractive to any league looking for an extra dash of marketability in January and February.

Gonzaga has four losses in total in the last six seasons in the WCC.


The idea may seem unconventional now, but it would actually be a return to form. For more than 50 years, high-profile teams played other nationally significant non-league games in January and February to break the hard work of the league roster. This was not an occasional thing; it was a feature of the college basketball schedule. Arkansas vs. UNLV, Duke vs. St. John’s, Duke vs. UCLA, Kentucky vs. Syracuse, UCLA vs. Louisville, UConn vs. Stanford, Arizona vs. Cincinnati and so on for years and years and years.

Most of that is gone, except for the fantastic Big 12/SEC Challenge at the end of January. For Gonzaga, it doesn’t even always have to be against the best Big East/Big 12 teams, just good programs. Sign them up and have contracts stating that Gonzaga would play two of the top five or six teams in the previous season’s standings. With Gonzaga’s 16-game WCC schedule, this would easily allow him to play four non-conference games in January and February. It would be great for college basketball if the Zags could spice up television programming in any given year with January games at home against Villanova and then at BYU. In February, a couple of tilts, let’s say: on the road to play Marquette, then welcome back to Baylor for a Gonzaga home game around Valentine’s Day.

In mid-January, when college football season ends and basketball becomes more prominent in our daily sports conversation, there is a great opportunity to increase value with non-conference matchups between established powers. These games would get more prominence and attention than most of the non-conference games that populate November and early December.

Some believe that making this kind of alliance with two leagues would be difficult to maneuver. If it’s just the Big East, let it be three non-league games. Maybe it’s UConn, Creighton and Butler in a year. A house, a road, a neutral. Villanova, Xavier, Marquette the next using the same model. It would add attraction and interest to the Big East while providing a significant boost to Gonzaga’s brand. The Bulldogs would get rid of the stigma (fair or not) of walking the WCC before making a comeback in March. It’s hard to argue that playing against tougher competition more often later in the season wouldn’t be a good thing. Yes, it would be detrimental to Gonzaga’s pursuit of the No. 1 seeds, but the challenge must surely be worth it for Few’s program.

For Gonzaga, this could be the catalyst to continue his evolution as a national power. The school can’t do it alone, but perhaps coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners will look around and realize there are still opportunities to improve the marketability of the sport before March. Capitalize it. Lean on Gonzaga’s story; The Big East or Big 12 might see their teams as the ones to benefit the most from this.

How good would a Gonzaga/Villanova home and home be in February? Gonzaga vs. Kansas on a Monday in mid-January? Many college sports fans would sign up for that kind of calendrical creativity, which would be a refreshing return to the way television programming used to look: before conferences bloated, television contracts restricted flexibility and events. of several teams will populate the first part of the programming. the season so much that it made scheduling in January and February nearly impossible.

But it’s not impossible. This can be done if the right people think about it in the right way. What was old can be new again. If ever there was a show to experiment with this, Gonzaga is the perfect choice.

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