The West Coast Conference - Risk & Reward

Photo: Beach volleyball, the fastest growing NCAA sport

Imagine Pacific University rolling into Denver to play beach volleyball - the fastest-growing NCAA sport with 50 colleges and universities playing as of January 2015. Or picture DU cross country runners training over at Washington park, getting ready for the December NCAA championships. What about heading across I-25 to a refurbished South High Stadium to watch the Pios take on BYU in baseball or watch women's softball against San Francisco? On a sunny fall day, how about heading out to Cherry Creek to watch a women's collegiate rowing meet with BYU, Portland and Santa Clara?

In addition to DU's current sports offerings, these are the additional sports that DU would have to sponsor to join the West Coast Conference. There is no doubt that this move would transform the University's athletics programs, elevate DU's visibility regionally and nationally. and align the DU with more "like minded" universities.

It would come with a cost, though.

DU's  golf, soccer, tennis and volleyball would remain unchanged in the WCC while lacrosse, hockey and gymnastics would continue with their current conference affiliation. 

A move like this would add to DU's already high travel costs, scholarships numbers, and facilities cost. The question is: Could or would the University be willing to take on this challenge in exchange for the visibility and potential revenue offsets of some of the new sports. Could DU sell-out beach volleyball? Yes. Cross Country and rowing - No. Baseball and softball - maybe. Would it elevate some of our current sports such as basketball, volleyball, and soccer - definitely. Would it increase non-scholarship student applications, particularly from the west? Likely.

Photo: NCAA cross country championships

Of course, if the WCC is willing to add DU, the Pioneers could seek relief by not adding one or two of the most costly new sports. Most conferences do not require participation in all sports.

Ten 'peer' schools figured it out - BYU, Portland, Loyola Marymount, Gonzaga, Pacific, Pepperdine, St. Mary's, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Clara. That means DU could as well.


Anonymous said...

WCC does not offer men's lacrosse.

jerseyb said...

West Coast Conference would sure be better than the Summit League. Like-minded colleges, and private ones, not state schools from North Dakota, South Dakota, etc. I bet crowds at hoops games would increase because students probably are more familiar with WCC names than what the Summit has,

5BWest said...

Right you are anon, I knew that but missed it in the final edit. Of course, DU lacrosse would continue to compete in the Big East, Gymnastics in the Big Ten, and hockey in the NCHC. Thx.

Puck Swami said...

DU wanted to join this conference back in 1998 when it went back to D-I in all sports, and again in 2011 before joining the WAC, but both times, the WCC turned us down, due primarily to our location.

Yes - DU looks a lot like the WCC schools do in terms of private schools with similar enrollment profiles, but other than BYU (a huge school with a lot of Denver area alumni), I don't think that the other WCC schools would be much more of a draw here than the Summit Schools are now. Most DU students (and Denver area sports fans) aren't going to be that excited about Loyola Marymount, San Diego, Pacific and Pepperdine, etc.

DU fans want to see regional rivals and/or name brand opponents, and that's a tough order here, given our hoops RPI, sports mix, budget and location.

Adding baseball/softball is a $10 million decision and we have a terrible recruiting area for both sports. Additionally, weather here is bad for both of those sports, and there are few bus ride opponents nearby, either. Most area schools have dropped those sports for good reasons.

5BWest said...

All good points. But, if DU could opt out of costly baseball/softball AND if WCC accepted DU, would the benefits outweigh the negatives - I'd say yes. Not all WCC members participate in all sports.

DU WAG said...

What about adding curling? The weather suits it. :/

Anonymous said...

Seriously Puck Swami? You don't think students and probably alumni and locals wouldn't identify more with WCC colleges than IUPUI, IPFW? The vast majority of students probably don't know what IUPUI stands for; all they know is IUPUI.

I know you're going to say DU is stuck with the Summit League. Fine. But don't complain about attendance at basketball games, and even conference soccer games. DU doesn't belong in a conference with all low-grade state schools, other than Oral Roberts. Students don't want to see those schools play.

Atlanta Pioneer said...

I am a DU alum from the 1970s and followed DU athletics for over 40 years and think that the WCC is definitely the conference that would make the most sense for DU. I also feel that there are definitely 2-3 teams that would draw in men's bob because of their historically strong programs (Gonzaga , BYU, Saint Mary's). I also feel that there are another's 3-4 that would also draw due to the name recognition of the schools and some bb success in prior years(Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine,San Francisco and Pacific). Even the remaining schools are mostly named after major West Coast cities people are more aware than schools like IUPI or IUFW or Western Illinois.

Besides being schools that are similar to DU and ones that will create more fan interest, they are also located in West Coast markets that are stronger areas for recruiting athletes and non-athlete students than the majority of Summit markets. The WCC is also a stronger league in soccer, volleyball, tennis and golf. I also think that as lacrosse spreads further West that the WCC schools are likely to add it. In all I think that membership in the WCC would be a definite win- win for both DU and the league. Also, it may not be a far fetched as some think for most people feel BYU will join a fb league in the near future thus leaving a hole in the WCC and DU and Seattle are the names mentioned as potential WCC members., I hope we can find a way into the WCC and I can watch more DU basketball on late night ESPN.

Dunker said...

Great topic for discussion. I have many thoughts, some which I will air now.
1. WCC. 10 teams that they have now is an ideal #. Adding an 11th team will cause scheduling difficulties. So let's say BYU drops out. I think they add Seattle. I checked out Seattle's Div. 1 programs and it fits in ideally now with WCC sports.
2. So why add DU? It gives the WCC a new 1,000,000 person viewing audience. But we are in essence only talking men's hoops. Nice road trip as a recruiting incentive. Lovely, but not enough. Only real hope is the WCC changes their stance and takes our hoops programs in as auxiliary members. Maybe a team away from the spray of the Pacific Ocean will help the WCC expand their brand.
3. A few line items to remember. We have full membership in the Summit League. However, lacrosse, skiing, ice hockey, and gymnastics are in other leagues. Men's and women's golf and tennis play national schedules and only rely on the Summit for conference championships with a automatic NCAA bid on the line. Thus hoops, volleyball, and soccer are the only sports where we play Summit competition week-in and week-out. Right now, soccer and volleyball are surviving in the Summit. Their schedules are long enough so that we can schedule enough OOC games to have a decent SOS. Not sure how long this will last. Not trying to ignore swimming and diving, but no time now to research their schedules. So it all really boils down to Men's Hoops.
4. DREAM SCENARIO- Big East Hoops. Auxiliary membership. Everyone has to fly to Creighton so why not continue on to Denver. We could become Creighton's travel partner. Cost minimal to BE schools, but heavy for us. BIG EAST is just a name, not a location; and what a great name. We are in it for lax. The BE could use the 1,000,000 extra viewers. Similar type schools and student bodies. We could dominate the region and make Pac-10 member University of Colorado second fiddle in Colorado. The Denver community would get turned on when Georgetown, Villanova, and St. Johns visit every year.
Let a man dream

JerseyB said...

Dunker, DU basketball could not compete in the Big East. No way. DU can't win the Summit, how can they compete in the Big East?!

Atlanta Pioneer said...

I do not see the Big East as a realistic options. They added us for lacrosse because they needed a premier lacrosse program that could win in the NCAA tournament. We aren't there in basketball and they have several good options like Dayton and St Louis. A similar move to a top conference that might be somewhat more realistic and financially more lucrative is to the Mountain West if CSU were to go to the Big 12. Currently, the MWC does not have any non-football members but has Hawaii for fb only. If CSU were to leave they might want to take DU as a travel partner for Air Force and to have a team in the Denver tv market. Another potential move that could impact DU is Wichita State from the Missouri Valley to the A10 or Big East. I don't think the Missouri Valley would be a good long term move for it is half large public second tier universities like the Summit that probably would draw any better than the Summit teams. Yes, it's a stronger conference it doesn't have the brand name schools or regional rivals.

With all this said, I think the Mountain West would be a nice pipe dream, but the WCC makes more sense today and could give DU a forever home. The real question is does the administration really want to make Men's BB into a major revenue sport or do they want to find a like minded long term home.


Puck Swami said...

Excellent discussion, folks.

The WCC would be a better league for both DU soccer programs, volleyball, swimming, tennis and golf, as many of our top recruits are coming from the west coast already in those sports. DU also has more alumni on the West Coast then we do in the other Summit League states, and I am sure the DU academic administration would like to see DU grouped with other academically accomplished private schools such as those in the WCC.

That said, I think the whole conference upgrade hope is pretty much contingent on improvement in men's basketball. Until DU can make it to the NCAA tournament and get an RPI from 75-125 on a consistent basis, and DU crowds start to get to 4,000-ish on a regular basis without papering the house with freebies, we remain a tough sell for any conference beyond the Summit League.

The WCC and Missouri Valley would be upgrades from a basketball perspective (RPI) but I would remain skeptical about most of those schools being able to draw fans in Denver. I think the MWC would be great if that conference were to ever consider non-football members, (and assuming that CSU, Wyoming and Air Force remained in that conference). Local rivals are the biggest games on the DU schedule now, and it would be great to see them come to Magness every year instead of irregularly.

The Big East, while a longshot at best for hoops, would be amazing for DU and worth extra travel money it would take for our other sports to play there. DU would certainly be kicked around for a few years there, but the profile of that league would attract a higher level of basketball recruit than DU can attract today (3 and 4 star players) vs the 2 star guys DU gets now. Bringing schools like Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, St. Johns, and Creighton into DU for hoops games would be incredible for the whole school. Given DU's success as a lacrosse associate member in the Big East already, Creighton in Omaha as a member, as well as extended recruiting reach, TV eyeballs and an easy airport here, it's not out of the realm of possibility.

Atlanta Pioneer said...

I agree wIth my friend Puck that the WCC would be a good move for DU, but it probably wouldn 't help basketball crowds much except for the games with Gonzaga and BYU, if they were still in the WCC. I have heard talk for many years about our need to win in whatever conference that we are in order to move up. The problem with this that in the leagues we have been in (Sunbelt. WAC and now the Summit) it is almost impossible to recruit much more than two star players. The only schools that seem to get higher rated players are the ones taking in transfers. Georgia State has done it in the Sunbelt very successfully. It seems that our problem of trying to work our way up to the WCC or even the Missouri Valley is that until we get in we can't seem to recruit the athletes needed to consistently win in our current conference. I think that with all the transfers and graduate transfer with eligibility left that DU needs to start recruiting higher rated transfers even if just for a year in order to build the wins up. This way we could get the wins needed to move up when openings occur. Otherwise it will continue to stay like it is for DU with an occasional under recruited player like Brett Olsen or Chris Udolphia. They were both 2 stars outof high school. If we could bring in a couple of transfers from stronger programs we could move up a lot sooner. This type of strategy migh make attractive t either the Big East or Mountain West. Men's basketball could be a revenue sport atDU if we can win consistently in the right league. I think accepting transfers could be the thing that gets things going. I don't ever remember Coach Scott bringing in any highly rated transfers. With DUs strong graduate programs we should be able to attract some graduate transfers with one to two years of eligibility left. They are out there and it is a way to build quickly. One other way we could also do it is bring in a few foreign players. Gonzaga and St. Mary's in the WCC has been successfully doing it for years