It’s starting to feel inevitable. Possibly as early as next week, the Big 12 will formally invite BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF to make up for the upcoming losses of Oklahoma and Texas.
BYU, Cincinnati, Houston & UCF could receive invitations from Big 12 this month, sources told @ActionNetworkHQ. BYU could join earlier than others & all 4 could join before OU/Texas leave for SEC, source said. Boise, Memphis, SMU & USF also were considered https://t.co/kLJoqNKvvl— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) September 3, 2021
Most of the talk has, rightfully, been about how Big 12 football will stack up against the other power conferences and what the AAC will do now that three of its top programs have been poached.
With BYU playing football as an independent, the ramifications of the Cougars’ move isn’t going to dominate the conversation in the same way as the other three. But in every other sport, they’re leaving the West Coast Conference behind and, in men’s basketball, one of the biggest brands in the sport.
Gonzaga has spent the last two decades growing from a mid-major to a bona fide powerhouse, but without an FBS football program, it has been confined to the WCC. The Bulldogs have made the best of it, flexing their muscle to keep the league schedule at 16 games, allowing for more non-conference opportunities. Now, without two games against BYU every year, Gonzaga faces an even tougher climb to keep its schedule strength respectful. Here are some things the Bulldogs can do to mitigate the damage:
Schedule a home-and-home with BYU
Anyone with more than four functioning brain cells could think of this. If you can’t play BYU twice a year, play them once a year. Maybe get the Cougars on board for four years, playing one game on each campus, one in Seattle, and one in Vegas. I’m not sure what sort of exit fee BYU will have to pay the WCC, but maybe the conference can negotiate it down in exchange for a yearly game with the Zags.
Play an in-season home-and-home with Memphis
The Big 12 is (probably) going to end up with a 20-game conference schedule, plus non-conference commitments with the Big East and SEC, and whatever multi-team event teams decide to play in. So getting BYU to commit to two non-conference games in a season isn’t going to happen. Memphis is a different story. The Tigers are the team poised to get screwed the hardest in this round of realignment, and in men’s basketball, they’ll be hard-pressed to find enough good games to make up for a weakened AAC. We’ve seen mid-majors like Belmont and Lipscomb play in-season home-and-homes already, so it’s not unprecedented. Memphis and Gonzaga should play each other twice a year — once in November/December and once in January/February. It’ll be a quality game for both sides, and with power conference alliances eating up non-conference opportunities, it might be the best they can do.
Cut a deal with the Mountain West
I’m not entirely sure what this would look like, but stay with me. The Mountain West has re-emerged the last few years as a true multi-bid league. The problem is that the teams all beat each other up, meaning a few NCAA Tournament-quality programs are relegated to the NIT. If the Mountain West gave Gonzaga just two games a year, one home and one away, it would give two programs a legit shot at a resume-building win with little to no risk at all. Mountain West programs already do a good job of getting Pac-12 schools and other high-quality mid-majors on their schedules and it would help both sides if the Bulldogs got a crack two of San Diego State, UNLV, Utah State, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado State, and Boise State each year. The Mountain West just signed a media rights deal through 2026, but maybe when it’s time to renegotiate, having some basketball games with one of the biggest brands in the sport could add a few bucks.
Get super aggressive with the made-for-TV one-off neutral site games
Honestly, from the way it looks, Mark Few is probably doing this already, and he should continue to do so. Gonzaga is in the advantageous position of being the preferred non-power conference team in the Maui Invitational and Battle 4 Atlantis when their turn comes up in the rotation. But there’s no limit to how often they can play in the Jimmy V Classic, Jerry Colangelo Classic, Never Forget Tribute Classic, the Duke Doesn’t Want to Play a True Road Game Classic, and any other made-for-TV events they want to make up. In the early 2000s, Gonzaga had a series with UConn where they played in Boston and Seattle. Do that again.
BYU’s departure by itself does not create a dire situation for Gonzaga. But when you pair it with the diminishing opportunities for non-conference games, it becomes a bigger concern. Gonzaga is going to have a tougher time finding 15 non-conference games per year than it has in the past. The power conferences are playing more league games, there are more inter-conference challenges, and whatever this Pac-12/ACC/Big Ten alliance ends up being will surely mean a couple more games off the board. It’s time to get creative.