Gonzaga in talks with Big 12 about joining conference

Gonzaga’s athletic director met in person with the Big 12 commissioner last week as part of broader discussions about the Zags joining the Big 12, sources told ESPN. The discussions are part of the possibility of a seismic move of the basketball powerhouse leaving the West Coast Conference for a power conference.

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark met with Gonzaga athletic director Chris Standiford at the Hyatt in Frisco, Texas, while the Zags were in the Dallas area to play Tennessee in a scrimmage, according to sources.

The move backs up Yormark’s promises of the Big 12 to be aggressive and “open for business,” and it could end up shifting the landscape of college basketball.

Sources indicate that Gonzaga has been exploring its conference options, as it has emerged as one of the premier basketball programs in the country. Both the Pac-12 and the Big East have been engaged with Gonzaga, according to sources, but the extent of those conversations is uncertain.

Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference, a mid-major conference it has consistently dominated as it has grown into one of the top programs in the sport. The school has been transparent with the WCC about its conversations.

The Big 12 targeting Gonzaga as a potential addition to bolster its basketball isn’t a surprise, as the conference has been regarded in recent seasons as the top basketball league in the country. The Big 12 boasts the past two men’s basketball national champions — Kansas and Baylor — and was an overtime loss by Texas Tech in 2019 from having three consecutive NCAA champions.

The addition of Gonzaga to the Big 12 would be a massive shift in the landscape, as it would perpetuate the Big 12’s reputation atop the sport. Gonzaga’s men’s basketball program played in the national title game in 2017 and 2021. Gonzaga has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in four of the past five years.

Yormark has been open about the league’s desire to expand. He has spoken openly about adding a fourth time zone and programs with national cachet. The Big 12 and its television partners, ESPN and Fox, are near agreement on a six-year extension that includes a significant pay raise. How any potential payout would trickle down to a school without football is uncertain, but the idea of Gonzaga playing Kansas, Baylor, BYU and Texas Tech in basketball league play would be attractive to television partners.

The notion of Gonzaga potentially joining the Big 12 was brought up by the conference with its television partners in a cursory manner in conversations about the league’s new television deal recently. But the potential addition had nothing to do with the Big 12’s final deal.

“It was hinted at,” said a person familiar with the Big 12 deal. “It came up in a quiet manner. It’s a positive, but it’s not a financial game-changer.”

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