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Wednesday, September 1, 2010
BYU in the WCC? Hmmm

By Eamonn Brennan

In the near future, the Brigham Young basketball Cougars are going to be playing said basketball in the West Coast Conference. This ... intrigues me.

First off, if you're interested in how things came to this -- the BYU/Mountain West/Western Athletic/West Coast expansion stories have been a confusing whirlwind to me -- be sure to read Andy Katz's story, which essentially broke today's BYU news last night. And for the football repercussions, check out my counterpart in the alternate dimension that is College Football Nation, Andrea Adelson, who has a collection of informative thoughts on the subject.

But what we're interested in is college basketball. To that end, it's difficult to say whether this is a wholly positive step for BYU hoops. But it's also hard to see it as a negative. Sure, the WCC is filled with teams whose arenas don't come close to the Mountain West's average hoops home, and BYU is going to be playing in front of high school-esque crowds for much of its regular season. Can BYU put together a schedule tough enough to keep it among the nation's elite? Can it dominate the conference enough to be consistently considered one of the best mid-majors in the country? (And now that it's in the WCC, is BYU actually, like, a real mid-major?)

There's another school who willingly plows that path each year: Gonzaga. Granted, the schools are vastly different. BYU has a massive football program and 30,000 undergraduates; Gonzaga doesn't field a football team and has just under 5,000 students on campus. But if we're speaking strictly about basketball, there's no reason why BYU can't become another Gonzaga in Gonzaga's own conference. Head coach Dave Rose has established the Cougars as one of the nation's better non-Big Six teams over the past five years. With that (assumed) extra football revenue, Brigham Young has no shortage of resources at its disposal.

The challenge then, is in mimicking the Gonzaga model well. The Zags have built themselves from plucky mid-major to elite national program; until BYU does the same, the Cougars will find it more difficult to schedule. Actually, correction: They'll find it difficult anyway. But if BYU can reasonably recreate what Gonzaga does, the Cougars' basketball program doesn't need to take a plunge into sub-red line mediocrity. And the WCC should be more entertaining than ever.

I'm not sure if that's a win-win, or if BYU hoops fans are jazzed about taking on the likes of Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara each year, but at the very least, it doesn't have to be a bad thing. I think.