The Gonzaga Basketball Program won’t win a National Championship until they leave the West Coast Conference (WCC) behind. Gonzaga has already established themselves as one of the top college basketball programs in the nation. They have opened up a season 29-0 on their way to a team high 37 wins, they are the first team to have appeared in five consecutive sweet sixteens, and have been to the NCAA basketball tournament for the past 20 straight years according to ESPN.
However, what us Gonzaga basketball fans fail to talk about is what happens deep in the tournament. Only three elite eight appearances, one final four and one championship appearance where they lost to North Carolina in 2017. For a team with so much success during the regular season, these numbers should be higher. The problem isn’t the coaching staff or the players, it’s the competition that the WCC provides.
The mid-major conference does nothing to prepare Gonzaga for the next level of competition in the NCAA tournament. The Zags have been to every WCC conference championship game since 1998, winning 16 of the past 20 years. According to Gonzaga’s schedule results, at one point last season they had a 30.1 points average margin of victory. Teams don’t win by 30 points when March Madness comes around.
There are some options available. The Pac-12, Big East and Mountain West Conference (MWC) all provide a step up in competition from the WCC. But, the geography of the Big East and the minimal competition jump to the MWC make these unlikely. This leaves the Pac-12, which is the best option anyway for Gonzaga.
People will be quick to jump to the fact that Gonzaga does not have a football team which would make the switch “too difficult.” Tell that to Wichita State, who made the move to join the American Athletic Conference (AAC) without a football program in 2017. Their allegiance to the Missouri Valley Conference dating back to 1945 didn’t stop them because of the powerhouse basketball program that they have.
Playing against better competition is beneficial in more ways than one. According to the NCAA Membership Financial Reporting System, Wichita State University netted $1.37 million in revenue in their first season as a member of the AAC. That’s plenty for the athletic department to work with.
Revenue should be even higher if Gonzaga made the switch. Ticket sales would skyrocket for matchups that include tilts against Oregon, Arizona and UCLA twice a year. It would also magnify the intensity of cross-state rivalries against University of Washington and Washington State University.
Going back to the whole “no football problem.” Notre Dame, another who’s a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) with the likes of Duke and Virginia, doesn’t have a football team in the conference. They made the switch from the Big East to the ACC in 2013 and many would argue that their program has greatly improved since.
Crazy things happen in the NCAA tournament, but Gonzaga is way too good of a basketball program to not be seeing more results. They must be willing to make the switch if they want to win a National Championship. Afterall, the Pac-13 does have a better ring to it.