In an hourlong discussion with reporters last Friday regarding the state of BYU sports, athletic director Tom Holmoe mentioned that some student-athletes and BYU fans expected the Cougars to walk into the West Coast Conference and dominate the so-called "Church League" from the beginning. Obviously, that hasn't happened.
However, the conference released the standings on Thursday in the race for the 2011-12 WCC Commissioner's Cup at the conclusion of the conference golf championships, and BYU is still in the lead. The Cup is awarded annually to the WCC institution garnering the most success during conference play.
BYU holds a four and a half point lead over the University of San Francisco.
"I knew going in that it was going to be really competitive," Holmoe said last week. "And I think a lot of our student-athletes didn't really quite understand that. But if you look at all of our sports, the top of the West Coast Conference is very competitive. I think probably across the board almost every sport is better up top, the top two or three teams, sometimes four. People saw that, but didn't realize it.
BYU is always going to be in the top one or two, maybe third, or else you had a bad year [in BYU fans' eyes]. Now, we had some teams that didn't finish in the top two. They were third or fourth or fifth, and I think it opened their eyes. It was somewhat humbling for some people. I knew it was going to be competitive.
If you take basketball and look at St. Mary's and Gonzaga, I think our fans underestimated how good they would be."
BYU's overall balance has it on top, but the Cougars don't lead either the men's race or the women's race. Saint Mary's leads the men's race with 30 points, while USF is second with 24 and BYU is third with 23.
In the women's race, Pepperdine leads with 33.5 points, while BYU is second with 33 points.
The next update will come after next week's WCC Tennis Championships in San Diego.
Holmoe said the WCC is better than it is perceived to be nationally.
"Maybe just the perception is something that we have to overcome," he said. "But if you were at Gonzaga for that [men's basketball] game, when we played up there at the end of the season, you wouldn't have that feeling. Say you were at USF. That was a tough game at the end of the season on the road. How many people were there? 2,500? The perception of that is, 'come on man, that's not big-time basketball.' But that was as good of a game as we have had in a long time. So, is it how many people are there that matters? No. But the basketball is really good.
The West Coast Conference made big strides last year. I think Portland and USF were improved teams. And Loyola Marymount, all of a sudden, whoa, they came out of nowhere.
The West Coast Conference -- they don't have football. Every egg is in that [basketball] basket. And so they do everything they possibly can to make that entitity -- WCC basketball -- great. And I love that.
And Juddy [women's coach Jeff Judkins] and Dave Rose, they sense that. They feel that. They know the importance of it, and that is not to say that it wasn't important in the MWC, because MWC basketball was great over the last couple of years."
The WCC a few weeks ago announced that the University of Pacific in Stockton, Calif., will join the league in 2013. Holmoe said that's a good move.
"It was good for the conference. Having nine schools in the conference creates issues with scheduling. We went through that when TCU came into the Mountain West Conference, and you get away from travel partners. So now with the 10th school in the West Coast Conference, it saves on expenses, makes the scheduling a lot easier. It is better for student-athletes and missed class times. There are so many different areas that it helps.
I think UOP, with Ted Leland, who was the great athletic director at Stanford who helped raise them to prominence overall is going to be the athletic director. He is the vice-president there now. He is going to step in and run the department.
Their athletic program, there was a time when they were quite good in a lot of sports, but dipped off in some sports. The university has made a commitment to enhance their facilities and made a real effort to make them field more competitive teams."
Holmoe said the league will probably decide on travel partners are meetings in early May. Many believe that BYU's travel partner will be San Diego, because all the other schools have closer geographic pairings.
"I will have just one vote in 10. But there are obviously logical ones around, so I don't know. Maybe San Diego, or one of the Bay Area schools," Holmoe said.
Someone asked Holmoe on Friday if the WCC schools and league office would be offended if BYU left the league only a few years after joining.
"We had those discussions prior to entering the conference, and you know, the thing that is hard is that there are always [conference realignment] discussions. If I were to say my eyes and ears weren't always open, I would be remiss if I weren't doing that. But by the same token, our focus is moving forward. We will just be running in place if we are not concentrating on winning games and winning championships and bringing in great student-athletes through recruiting, and building up stronger coaches.
So my effort is moving forward and building all of our teams and our department. It is hard to do that when you are looking around and your head is on a swivel. So it is one part moving forward, but at the same time you keep your radar out..
And [WCC commissioner] Jamie [Zaninovich] knows that. I have had frank and open discussions with the membership in the conference, and I think that the media and certain fans make a lot more of it than actually is happening.
I mean, we got through a season where we had said we had talked to the Big East. And the Big East [talks] wasn't that big of a deal for the West Coast Conference because it probably would have been football only.
So we are moving forward and we gotta be successful in this conference and be an attractive athletic department to conferences. We have to get better in every area. Basketball, we can't worry about where we are going to go in basketball if we can't win championships in the WCC and get deeper in the NCAA Tournament. The same goes for every one of our sports."