Gonzaga's Rise to Greatness Continues

In 2017 and 2020, North Carolina and Baylor (respectively) won March Madness. After bracket busting, upsets, and big performances, they cut the nets to write their names in the history books.
Gonzaga walked off the court in defeat both times. In their 2017 loss to UNC, the Zags lost to the Tar Heels in a “sluggish slog” that saw UNC pull away in the second half. In 2020, the Bulldogs’ undefeated squad fell to Baylor in an extremely entertaining match.
Yet the most impressive fact is that the Zags are a mid-major team. The finale of March Madness, usually reserved for teams in the Power 5, opened its gates twice to a team lacking the prestige of its contemporaries.
That being said, the Bulldogs would easily dominate a conference like the Pac-12. It seems almost unfair to pick on a small conference like the West Coast Conference instead of a bigger league. Yet there is one obstacle stopping the Zags. To find out why we need a deep dive into its history.
Founded in 1887 in Spokane, Washington, Gonzaga is a private Catholic university.
For a long time, Gonzaga was an NAIA school. The NAIA is a set of conferences for small schools that cannot compete with more populous universities. Soon in 1958, Gonzaga transferred to the NCAA as an independent. Five years later, the Zags joined the Big Sky Conference. In their 14 years with the league, the Zags earned only two conference titles and no tournament titles. 
In 1979, Gonzaga transferred to the WCAC (now the West Coast Conference) without much fanfare. It was a smart move: the Zags were hours away from their nearest opponents and recruiting suffered from the long road trips to small colleges.
“Gonzaga is much more similar to the schools in the WCAC,” Bill Belknap, the then University of Idaho athletic director, said of the conference move. “Many of us thought the change was inevitable.” Gonzaga’s baseball team would not play in the West Coast Conference until 1996.
In the meanwhile, the Zags struggled a bit. They were one of the conference’s better teams but did not capitalize on their favorable seeding in the playoffs. They were forced to wait until 1993. Head coach Dan Fitzgerald led the Bulldogs to the regular-season title and the second round of the NIT Invitational. They won the conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA tournament next season. In 1995, the Zags took the regular season for the second time in their WCC stint.
As the L.A. Times noted, Fitzgerald was instrumental to Gonzaga’s growth. “Fitzgerald helped build the school’s loyal fan base, developed summer youth camps, and fostered relationships with high school coaches in Seattle and Portland,” sports columnist Rob Fernas wrote. The Fitzgerald formula was passed down to assistant coaches.
After Fitzgerald’s resignation, Dan Monson led Gonzaga to two regular-season titles and an Elite Eight appearance. After the sudden success, Monson accepted a coaching offer from Minnesota. 
In 1999, Mark Few took the reins. That leads us to the success that the Bulldogs currently enjoy.
Gonzaga is dominating a helpless West Coast Conference. Aside from a trophy-barren 2011-12 season, the Zags took either the regular-season title, the conference playoff, or both for 21 years. The West Coast Conference cannot stop the runaway team. With West Coast dominance scratched off the checklist, Few’s squads will look to conquer the NCAA.
For a long time, the Zags were a team that you could count on to make it past the first round of the NCAA tournament. They usually won their round of 32 matchups but could not surmount pass past the Sweet Sixteen.
It was not until 2015 that Few finally made history. His side beat UCLA, a renowned powerhouse, to advance to the Elite Eight. In a way, it may be symbolic. The win is the transition into a new era that will change how we view mid-majors. It could cement Few’s greatness, although, of course, he will want a title even more. But, most of all, it was a new chapter of Gonzaga basketball. This was a challenge Few and his team had to face to become an elite team. Now with, the hurdle cleanly dealt with, college domination is on the agenda for the Bulldogs.
“Canadeo was an outstanding and complete football player because he could block, he could pass, he could kick, but above all, he was a tremendous runner. He graduated from Gonzaga University and, while in college, he got the nickname of the Grey Ghost of Gonzaga," Packers Vice President Richard Bourguignon spoke about Tony Canadeo. Canadeo, a Gonzaga alum, is a few minutes away from being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 
He is in a long line of Gonzaga graduates and staff to see success. Numerous Gonzaga products won NFL championships.
But despite all the talent flowing through the Bulldogs’ squads, Gonzaga lost their only bowl game and closed down after 1941. That closure of a “ripping, roaring” team would impact the remarkable basketball teams decades later.
The Spokane-based college hosts one of the best college basketball teams in the nation and would easily hold its own in a conference like the Mountain West or Pac-12. Yet both of those leagues require a football team for entry, and the Bulldogs do not have one. 
Why? It is too costly.
There is no real chance of another football team competing for the Zags. Gonzaga's football team will not turn as big of a profit as basketball already does.  Thanks to geography and the lack of a football team, the 19-time conference title winners are doomed to dominate the West Coast Conference.
"I’ve told our team that we have NCAA and WCC plaques around, but you have to go out and earn those. It doesn’t just happen. The league has never been in a position where they’ve talked about getting four teams making the NCAA Tournament, especially this far into the season. Just like we went out and challenged ourselves with some big-time opponents in big-time events in the non-conference schedule, we now challenge ourselves with conference play ‘cause we know it’s going to be a fight. Some of the teams in the conference outside of the four that are talked about are old and have experienced players that have been around forever.” 
That is Mark Few. Few is talking to WCCSports.com journalist Jeff Faraudo about the strength of the West Coast Conference, and the comments are positive. Few’s comments are an ode to the WCC’s progress since Few’s 1999 season. Most may not notice the quiet consistency coming out of the WCC instead of focusing on an elite Zags squad.
Yet the Zags overshadow an actually-good West Coast Conference. Ranked as the second-best mid-major conference, they boast on-fire teams like San Francisco and Saint Mary. Add soon-to-depart BYU, and there is a long line of prestigious squads that all populate the West Coast Conference.
Aside from the Atlantic 10 and possibly the Mountain West Conference, the West Coast Conference is unparalleled in exciting matches and controversy.
With the departure of BYU in 2023, one wonders how it will affect the WCC’s star power as a whole. Who will step in for BYU? And with their biggest competitor gone, will Gonzaga eye an invitation to a more prestigious conference?
Some speculate that Gonzaga could move to the Big East. The Big East, a non-football conference, has members from Rhode Island to Nebraska. The Zags bring box office personalities, talent, and money. The only thing that stands in the Zags’ way is their geography, with tip-off times and traveling a big factor in conference invitations.
It is a long shot, but the Big East is reportedly eyeing Gonzaga for their twelfth spot. 
Regardless of the conference, the opposition, or the arena, it is safe to say that Mark Few’s sides will welcome competition. For betting options on Gonzaga and all other college basketball teams check out an Iowa sportsbook.