In a surprise that might not have been so shocking for those on the inside of the West Coast Conference, the league announced Wednesday morning that it will add a 10th school, University of Pacific, for the 2013-14 school year.
I’m told that a primary driver – once you get past Pacific’s likeness to a lot of WCC schools – was the headaches associated with wrangling a nine-team schedule, after Brigham Young joined the league for 2011-12.
For background, the WCC formed a four-person task force to study expansion in 2009. It didn’t choose to act then, but when the expansion earthquake of 2010 hit, and BYU was choosing to opt out of the Mountain West to go independent in football, the WCC was ready with an invitation to the Cougars in all other sports.
All that happened very quickly. The WCC had already worked up scheduling models for a nine-team basketball league, and while there was considerable sentiment that such an odd-numbered schedule could be a major pain in the backside, the lure of getting BYU was too great to pass up.
Why didn’t the WCC take Pacific (it’s in Stockton, Calif.) along with BYU then? Good question. My guess is that the decision on BYU had to be made quickly on both ends, and the league probably felt that was the major move – that the scheduling component could be reconciled as well as possible. And that Pacific – as a non-football school, one that wouldn’t be subject, for instance, to being poached by the WAC – would still be there down the road. But that’s merely a guess.
Then came the WCC basketball schedule this year. BYU made three different trips to southern California (to San Diego, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount). LMU made three separate trips to the Bay Area to play San Francisco, Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s.
There were Thursday night games at Gonzaga, followed by a home game in southern California. Not the most economical or logical.
Ergo: Pacific, which, with Denver and Seattle University, had widely been studied as possible expansion targets by the WCC (before Seattle U. joined the WAC).
(A subject for another day is why Seattle U. got left out of this loop before it joined the WAC. Conventional wisdom is that Gonzaga’s clout kept the Red Hawks out, but I’m not sure it’s that simple. There were significant concerns about how the school would manage the move to Division 1 and whether there was enough financial commitment.)
UOP is a widely respected academic school with an enrollment under 7,000. It’s had a lot of basketball success, although those fortunes have been somewhat spotty since the Tigers made their last NCAA appearance in 2006.
Under veteran coach Bob Thomason – who played at the school from 1968-71 and has coached there since 1988 – the Tigers fell back to 12-19 in 2007, then pieced together three straight 20-win seasons from 2008-2010 – but slipped back to 16-15 in ’11 and 11-19 in 2012. For what it’s worth, there wasn’t a senior on the roster this year.
There was undoubtedly another key component to this – the shadow cast by Ted Leland, the Pacific vice president of external relations and athletics. Leland was athletic director at Stanford from 1991-2003, and is highly respected in college athletics. The WCC commissioner, Jamie Zaninovich, worked a variety of roles in the Stanford athletic department, much of it in marketing, during Leland’s time there.
The assumption is that the WCC would go to an 18-game, double-round robin in basketball scheduling, much as the Pac-10 played before it expanded to 12. A natural travel partner for Pacific would be Saint Mary’s – another school on the east side of the bay.
For the historically minded, Pacific has been there before – in the antecedent of the WCC, that is. It joined Saint Mary’s, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Jose State in 1953 to form the California Basketball Association. They added Pepperdine and Loyola in 1955 and formed the West Coast Athletic Conference in 1956. Pacific dropped out in 1971 (it’s currently in the Big West), and since then, the league, which shortened its name, added Portland in 1976, Gonzaga in 1979, San Diego in 1979 and BYU in 2011.