It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to find parallels between the Gonzaga men’s basketball program and Boise State football.
There is sustained success — 20 straight NCAA Tournament appearances for the Bulldogs and bowl appearances in 18 of the past 19 seasons for the Broncos.
There is dominance in similar-sized cities that only have minor-league sports, and being the standard-bearer for their respective sport’s “little guys.”
And now, they could be in the same conference.
Gonzaga has spoken with the Mountain West about potential membership, though Gonzaga coach Mark Few said it wasn’t the only league the school has talked with.
“This was the one that I guess leaked out,” Few said Wednesday. “It’s not something we’re going to spend a lot of thought on this week ... but after the dust settles down, (athletic director) Mike (Roth) and I and President (Thayne) McCulloh will figure out what’s best for Gonzaga and go from there.”
The Bulldogs (30-4) face UNC Greensboro (27-7) at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Taco Bell Arena, the first of four first-round NCAA Tournament games of the day.
Like Boise State’s football team a decade ago, when it routinely crushed the Western Athletic Conference, so goes Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference. Since 1999, when Few took over as head coach, he’s won 82 percent of his games, and Boise State has won 83.4 percent.
Boise State has moved conferences twice in that span, not including the aborted Big East move. Gonzaga has stayed put, but there is a sense the program is propping up the rest of the WCC. Few had a very Chris Petersen-like response about how the program moves forward.
“Stay in growth mode,” he said. “We’ve got to keep growing, not staying still or being content or happy with where we’re at.”
Prior to last year’s national championship loss to North Carolina, Few said of his program, “this is a national brand and national entity.” A move to the Mountain West could be seen as an avenue to grow that, but to some, that isn’t a necessity.
“It would make complete sense if two or three teams made it every year from the Mountain West, but that hasn’t happened lately,” former Gonzaga guard and current radio analyst Adam Morrison said Wednesday.
Historically, programs like New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State have been consistent in competing for NCAA berths, but the Mountain West has placed a total of four teams into the tournament the last three years, same as the WCC.
Morrison believes the talks are legit, but also perhaps a signal to the WCC that it needs to shape up or the Zags will bolt. Among the school’s hopes are for a better share of the NCAA Tournament money, the return of the double bye in the WCC tournament (requiring just two wins to claim the title), and two fewer conference games to allow more challenging nonconference matchups.
“I think our conference is broken, but our brand isn’t,” Morrison said. “Better competition, and a shot in the arm, could come with the Mountain West. But both of those could take care of itself if the rest of the WCC took a step up.”
There also is the fact the WCC is comprised of mostly private, religious-affiliated schools in a similar geographic footprint, so recruiting could be different. Gonzaga has established itself as one of college basketball’s best, though Morrison joked that a 20-11 season there would be like an 8-4 football season in Boise — good just about anywhere else, but cause for concern locally.
“I do think they’re the standard for how you take your program from one level to the next for all mid-major programs in college basketball,” UNCG coach Wes Miller said.
So, why move?
“This isn’t the first situation we’ve been in,” Few told Fox Sports’ Doug Gottlieb earlier this month. “We’re more than equitable partners in the situation we’re in ... the logic (in a move) would be maybe a bigger platform with the addition of us, league-wise. Does it allow us more wiggle room on the years you don’t care of business?”
Even though neither conference has churned out a ton of NCAA bids, the Mountain West was better this season. The Mountain West’s conference RPI ranks No. 9, the WCC is No. 13. The WCC had a better RPI in two of the past four seasons. Saint Mary’s went 28-5 and lost in the conference semifinals this year, then got left out as an at-large team.
Few also mentioned “financial considerations,” which possibly could be a deal akin to Boise State’s permission given in 2013 by the Mountain West to negotiate with ESPN for its home games. Gonzaga’s NCAA runs have helped support the WCC league office and the conference’s other schools. Reaching the championship game last year meant about $8.5 million over six years for the league.
Adding the Zags surely would increase the level of competition in the Mountain West, but it could be a lateral move if it winds up propping up another league.
“There’s only about 10 teams in the nation that have a brand like we do, and I think we’ll be fine either way, but I don’t think leaving is guaranteed to be this great thing,” Morrison said.
LOCAL TIES: If Gonzaga ever visits Boise State as a league member, it will be a familiar environment for Few. He considers former assistant Leon Rice, the Broncos’ head coach, “basically family.” His wife, Marcy, was raised in Parma, and her sister, Christina, is Boise State’s senior associate athletic director for internal operations and senior woman administrator. She’s married to baseball coach Gary Van Tol.
Marcy and Christina’s father, Julian Laca, died in July after battling Alzheimer’s.
“I wish my father-in-law was still alive, because he would have gotten the biggest kick out of hosting the Zags down here,” Few said.