No team has defined BYU’s West Coast Conference era more than Gonzaga.
The teams have met 30 times since 2011, with the Zags taking 23 of those meetings. Even with the lopsided nature, Gonzaga has been the benchmark program BYU used to mold itself to be Big 12-ready. The series has also produced some of the biggest upsets in the Cougars’ history and is routinely a sellout.
Outside of Utah, the visitors from Spokane represent BYU’s biggest rival over the last decade.
But as BYU heads into the Big 12 next year, what will happen to the future of this series?
It was a question without a firm answer as Gonzaga headed to Provo for the final time as a conference rival on Thursday. Both sides have publicly expressed a desire to play beyond 2023, but no tangible action has taken place to make it happen.
“This game is super meaningful to us and super meaningful to our fans,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “The one thing about Gonzaga is that [Gonzaga coach Mark] Few and I are inclined to find a way to keep playing somehow. I don’t know if it will be every year, but find a home-and-home from time to time.”
Few has said on multiple occasions he’d be open to scheduling BYU. Most recently, at the WCC media days in October, he told a scrum of reporters it was on the table.
“It’s been a healthy rivalry with some phenomenal games and different characters involved over the years, highly competitive,” Few said. “I’m sure we’ll continue to play in some fashion or form moving forward.”
Despite a public willingness to play, there’s nothing in writing yet.
BYU is still waiting for its first Big 12 schedule to come out. Pope has been quite cautious in scheduling long-term, non-conference opponents beyond 2023 until he knows what the conference schedule looks like. This is partly why BYU’s 2022 schedule took so long to finalize.
“We haven’t had any conversations like that,” Pope said if there have been any talks between the two schools. “I’m just excited to see who is in the [Big 12] next year. Let’s just get to that point first.
“... But Few has been like, ‘Hey, anybody who will play me, let’s go.’ So I think there is a chance we get that game. He has talked about it before, ‘Hey maybe this thing will continue.’ I don’t know, we’ll see.”
BYU’s athletic department opted not to comment on the future of the series, instead deferring to Pope’s comments. Gonzaga’s athletic department did not respond to a request for comment.
From the outside, there are a number of factors that could be considered in scheduling this game.
From a Gonzaga perspective, playing BYU could give it another potential Quadrant II game before heading into WCC play where there aren’t many opportunities for resume-building games.
The quadrant system is a metric for tournament seeding. A Quad I game is considered any home game against an RPI top 30 team, a neutral site game against a top 50 team or a road game against a top 75 team. A Quad II game is considered any home game against a top 75 team, neutral site game against a top 100 team or road game against a top 135 team.
Under Pope, BYU has consistently ranked inside the top 50 in RPI. While that might dip in the Big 12, the level of competition would make it hard for BYU to ever fall that much below 135 in RPI. For example, right now, every team in the Big 12 except Texas Tech is ranked in the top 100 in RPI.
In short, playing BYU could give Gonzaga the potential for a quality win, but a loss wouldn’t be devastating.
That said, Gonzaga rarely schedules true road games in its non-conference schedule and doesn’t need another Quad I or Quad II game to boost its tournament resume.
In 2021, it did not play a single true road game. This year, it only played one true road game against Texas. Gonzaga tends to schedule neutral site games, and maybe could play BYU in a Las Vegas setting. But the payoff might not be high enough from its perspective, and not probably high enough for a true home-and-home series.
For BYU, the Cougars also might have some doubts about adding Gonzaga to its non-conference slate. Heading into the Big 12, BYU won’t need to add Quad I games like it does now. Its conference-only schedule will be hard enough and BYU will likely be looking for wins in the non-conference.
Still, the future of the series is unknown at this point.
“For us, they certainly draw a ton of attention,” Pope said. “They have been pretty dominant in our matchups. But we have had some big wins that are super important. We have both spent a lot of time on the national stage... It is a great game we love so much.”