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 talks are part of the possibility of a seismic move by the basketball powerhouse leaving the West Coast Conference for a powerhouse 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 face Tennessee in a scrum, sources say.
The move confirms Yormark’s promises that the Big 12 would be aggressive and “open for business,” and it could end up changing the landscape of college basketball.
Sources say Gonzaga explored his conference options as he became one of the top basketball programs in the nation. Both the Pac-12 and the Big East have been engaged with Gonzaga, sources say, but the extent of those conversations is unclear.
Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference, a mid-major conference he has always dominated as it has grown into one of the top programs in the sport. The school has been transparent with the COE about its conversations.
The Big 12 targeting Gonzaga as a potential addition to bolster its basketball comes as no surprise, as the conference has in recent seasons been considered the top basketball league in the nation. The Big 12 has the last two national men’s basketball champions — Kansas and Baylor — and was an overtime loss to Texas Tech in 2019 after having three straight NCAA champions.
Gonzaga’s addition to the Big 12 would be a massive change to the landscape, as he would continue the Big 12’s reputation at the pinnacle of the sport. Gonzaga’s men’s basketball program has made the national title game in 2017 and 2021. Gonzaga has been the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five years.
Yormark has been open about the league’s desire to grow. He spoke openly about adding a fourth time zone and programs with a national flavor. The Big 12 and its television partners, ESPN and Fox, are set to agree to a six-year extension that includes a major salary increase. How any potential payout would impact a football-free school is unclear, but the idea of Gonzaga playing Kansas, Baylor, BYU and Texas Tech in the basketball league would be appealing to television partners.
The notion of Gonzaga potentially joining the Big 12 has been brought up by the conference with its TV partners superficially in conversations about the league’s new TV deal recently. But the potential addition had nothing to do with the final Big 12 deal.
“It was suggested,” said a person familiar with the Big 12 case. “It happened quietly. It’s positive, but it’s not a financial game-changer.”