Report: Gonzaga, BYU among schools interested in Mountain West expansion

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The Mountain West is exploring the possibility of conference expansion as BYU and Gonzaga are two of the schools who could be interested in the basketball side, according to a report from Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

With the Mountain West looking to potentially add new members as soon as next season, league commissioner Craig Thompson told Zeigler that he has been in discussion with Gonzaga. Although Thompson hasn’t spoken directly to BYU, Zeigler reports that the school could be interested in a return to the Mountain West, at least in basketball, if Gonzaga joins as well.

“Since August, I have spoken to six university presidents and/or athletic directors that have called inquiring about whether we are going to expand, and the Zags are one of them,” Thompson said to Zeigler.

“I guess the adjective I’d use is exploratory. Truthfully, what we’re trying to do here is better ourselves and we’re trying to understand what are your goals and ambitions, and what are the Mountain West’s goals and ambitions. Is there something there? … But obviously, they would enhance our basketball enterprise.”

According to Zeigler, the topic of expansion is expected to be addressed during the WCC conference tournament in Las Vegas later this week. As Zeigler noted in his report, new television deals could be a major motivating factor for all parties involved. The Gonzaga to the Mountain West talk could also be a negotiating tactic the Gonzaga athletic department is using to get more money from the WCC in the hopes of staying.

But the Mountain West’s current TV rights contract expires after the 2019-20 season and BYU’s football contract is finished after the 2018 season. A new expansion deal could make sense in a lot of ways.

Formerly a consistent multi-bid threat for the NCAA tournament, the Mountain West has struggled in recent years as they’ve become a one-bid league. Traditionally strong basketball programs like San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico have had to integrate new coaches. The league still also has some solid teams in Nevada, Boise State, Wyoming and Fresno State.

If the Mountain West added two more perennial basketball powerhouses then they could become a West Coast version of the AAC or a smaller-scale Big East. It would be fascinating to see what kind of television deal that league might get and how the Mountain West could expand into another basketball league to watch.