PROVO — Changing conferences will pose new challenge for the BYU basketball program as it moves from the Mountain West Conference to the West Coast Conference in 2011-12.
Instead of traveling to familiar venues like The Pit in Albuquerque or the Double-A in Laramie for league games, the Cougars will be visiting locales like Spokane, Wash., to face Gonzaga and Moraga, Calif., to take on Saint Mary's.
Coach Dave Rose is embracing that opportunity.
"I'm excited for a new challenge. We have this season to deal with, obviously, but when you look to where we're going to play, the challenge is just the same," Rose said. "We're trying to get as competitive of a nonconference schedule as we can, which we're in a much better position to do that with our alignment with ESPN. And then you've got to win games on the road, and at home, win the conference championship and then try to get to the NCAA Tournament. We're excited about the new locations."
WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said the addition of BYU will help the conference in terms of the league's RPI rating and the ability to get more teams into the NCAA Tournament.
"It really repositions us in the national landscape. Adding a national brand like BYU and creating what will be a remarkable rivalry with Gonzaga and St. Mary's and some of our other programs will add great value, exposure-wise and multiple-bid-wise."
While Rose was instrumental in helping build the MWC into a respected basketball league, he is looking forward to being part of the WCC, which has built a reputation in its own right. Gonzaga has been to the NCAA Tournament for 12 straight seasons, while St. Mary's advanced to the Sweet 16 last spring.
"What impresses me about the WCC is their commitment to men's basketball," he said. "It's a men's basketball league. The incentives they have to increase the level of their basketball, I was extremely impressed. I really enjoyed competing in the Mountain West Conference and we'll miss those competitive games. Hopefully, we'll be able to schedule those teams in the future."
Rose said the Cougars are planning to play arch-rival Utah every year, once a year, on a predetermined date.
There's potential to grow the basketball program in the WCC, Rose said, because BYU has thousands of fans on the West Coast.
"There's a great fan base in the WCC footprint for BYU. That's exciting for us," Rose said. "We look forward to our relationship with Gonzaga and how they've built their national program from the WCC and how we can rely on them to help us achieve the same thing."
While the WCC basketball conference tournament semifinals have traditionally been played on a Sunday, the league will change the schedule to accommodate BYU, which doesn't compete on Sundays.
"They're very well aware of that," Rose said. "They will adjust that. As far as the details of that, we'll wait and see. Traditionally, the finals of that tournament have been on a Monday (on ESPN). The exposure is terrific."
Rose has spent time looking at the non-conference games that ESPN has helped WCC teams schedule.
"Portland has Kentucky on their home floor this year," Rose said. "That would be nice if someday we could get Kentucky to visit us."