Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson says Gonzaga reached out to him last fall about joining the league, and Thompson said he also has spoken with six university presidents or athletic directors since August who have asked about expansion.
Gonzaga was the only school Thompson identified as engaging in talks. New Mexico State AD Mario Moccia confirmed in a text that NMSU and the Mountain West had dialogue “a while ago.” The San Diego Union Tribune, which first reported the story, stated that Brigham Young was not one of the schools to make contact, but would be interested in returning to the league, at least in basketball, if Gonzaga joins.
Thompson said Gonzaga AD Mike Roth reached out to him last fall and that he’s spoken with men’s basketball coach Mark Few about the possibility of the Zags leaving the West Coast Conference for the MWC.
“Exploratory. I think that’s the best description,” Thompson said Wednesday night. “If there’s something that helps us or makes us grow stronger, why wouldn’t we look into it a little bit? We haven’t gotten real detailed or in depth in any conversations.”
Gonzaga has dominated the WCC, winning 17 regular-season championships and 14 tournament titles since Few became coach in 1999. The Zags reached the NCAA title game a year ago, losing to North Carolina. This year, they are 27-4 and ranked seventh heading into a WCC tournament game on Saturday.
A move to a larger conference would boost the competition Gonzaga faces during the conference season and help with seeding in the NCAA Tournament. No. 11 Wichita State made a similar move last year, leaving the Missouri Valley Conference for the American Athletic Conference.
Meanwhile, the Mountain West at one point was the highest-rated conference in the nation, but was a one-bid league each of the past two seasons and could be again this year unless somebody other than first-place 21st-ranked, 26-5 Nevada wins the league tourney and the accompanying automatic berth.
“We’ve fallen a little short the past couple years with just one bid, but historically over 19 years we’ve been a multi-bid league,” Thompson said. “We play Gonzaga in sports other than basketball, but it’s Western-based, it’s in a part of the country geographically that we look into. And this is a really easy one to explore because we only have 11 basketball schools.”
Gonzaga is a private, Catholic university in Spokane, Wash., approximately 420 miles north of the closest Mountain West Conference member school, Boise State.
Gonzaga participates in 16 NCAA varsity sports. For the men: baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, rowing, soccer, tennis and track and field. For the women: basketball, cross country, golf, rowing, soccer, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. The Mountain West sanctions all of those sports except men’s soccer and rowing.