Jamie Zaninovich has been the West Coast Conference commissioner since 2008 and the conference has taken a number of strides in his tenure.
The WCC has added two schools (BYU and the University of the Pacific), moved its basketball tournament to a neutral site, become incredibly active in digital media, and its exposure may be higher than it ever has been. On the eve of the WCC Tournament championship, Zaninovich took some time to talk to Examiner.com.
Zack Farmer: How do you think the tournament has gone so far?
Jamie Zaninovich: I think it’s gone great so far operationally. A little unpredictable on the court but when you bring nine teams to a neutral site and tell them they might be playing the last game of their career, strange things can happen. I think we’ve had really competitive games.
ZF: With the expansion in digital platforms and television coverage over the last year, how do you think the WCC has done with its exposure?
JZ: I think we probably need to do a better job of measuring it but I think our exposure is probably at an all-time high. We’ve made a lot of efforts and have been very fortunate to have great TV partners. Our ESPN agreement is an all-time high. Between our national and regional [coverage], we had 61 of 72 men’s basketball games on either regional or national TV. Our regional broadcasts are, in most cases, going between 10 to 20 million homes. And now working on the beta of a digital network we hope can benefit not only basketball but our other sports. We’re making a lot of our efforts but our exposure is only going to be as good as our competitive level. Biggest reason our exposure is at an all-time high is that our competitive level is at an all-time high.
ZF: How much of a difference will the combined additions of BYU and Pacific make on the league?
JZ: The addition of BYU and Pacific are important to us because they are institutions that fit where our institutions are philosophically. Of all the things conference realignment has proven over the past couple of years in this crazy environment out there is that the conference is only as strong as its natural connections between its institutions. That television contract can’t really bind that. It’s really important for us. And obviously competitively BYU has brought a national brand, highly competitive teams. They have been top half in almost everything. That’s what we expected. In the case of Pacific, they have a great tradition in the sports that really matter to us. They have a great tradition. They also fit geographically, too. To bring in a fourth Bay Area school that really gets those rivalries going is important . College rivalries are kind of what its about in college athletics.
ZF: Is the WCC set at 10 schools?
JZ: You never say never in this environment but 10 is a good number for us. Like an organization we sort of want to know what we want and then if there are opportunities that fit with that, we want to be active. I think that this environment has proven you can’t really sit back. You need to be proactive in your approach but that means finding schools that fit institutionally and help us significantly in the sports that are important to us.
ZF: You set out a five-year strategic plan, which ends in 2014. Where do you think the WCCC is in relation to the plan?
JZ: I think we’re pretty close. our highest level goal was to become a top-10 level basketball conference and be a perennially multi-bid conference in all of our sports. In most of them, we have gotten here. In terms of those metrics, I think we’ve sort of hit the mark. There are a lot of other metrics in there related to leadership positions, NCAA and otherwise. Doing what we need to do from an exposure standpoint, national deals, regional deals, on TV, digital media. All those things we’re tracking. We’ll run those out for the next year and measure it against what our expectations were. We’re pretty pleased where we are but we never want to be too pleased. I’m sort of a believer that if you’re always accomplishing your goals, you’re not setting them high enough.
ZF: How do you think the WCC image has changed in your tenure?
JZ: I’d like to think that we’re more nationally relevant than in the past but that relates most to the competitiveness of the schools. Men’s basketball is so important to that. I’d like to think we’re at an all-time high for that.
ZF: What do you think you are most proud of?
JZ: I hope its the level of service we’ve provided to the membership and the staff we’ve put in the conference office to do that. I think what I’m most proud of is the connectivity we’ve been able to achieve between the conference office, our schools, amongst the schools themselves. And I think I’m am proud we’ve been able to honor some of the really important principles in our conference. We had our Hall of Honor event earlier [Saturday] that honors our traditions. We have all of our community service events at all of our championships. Our Kids Day at the basketball championship, which is an extension of the community service piece that is so important to our schools. I think those are the things I’m most proud of.
ZF: What is the future of the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas?
JZ: We’ve been in active negotiations with the Orleans. We would hope to announce something pretty soon. I think as we surveyed the landscape of options for this championship, it became pretty clear to us, that most importantly starting with the student-athletes, but administrators, fans that Las Vegas is a great destination and that this facility, the Orleans Arena and Hotel specifically, is a really good fit for our conference. The building is about the right size, it’s a fairly new building. It sets up well for us. I would anticipate that we would be able to announce something soon about the future.
ZF: What are your thought on the term “mid-major”?
JZ: I’m not a big fan of the “mid-major” term. I think you just have basketball teams. You look at what VCU has done, what Butler has done, and what Gonzaga being No. 1 has done. Those are certainly not “mid-major” programs. They are just basketball programs. I think the world is a little flatter when it comes to basketball. I think that’s a good thing. Even within the mid-majors, VCU is a 35,000-student commuter school with a huge [medical] school in the middle of Virginia. Gonzaga is a 7,000-student, mainly undergrad population in Spokane. Those institutions, private, public, are not very similar. Why they would be cataloged together as “mid-major” is beyond me except there is some perception of conference that play big football, they’re different. I think it’s just a perception issue.
ZF: Anything big on the horizon?
JZ: We’re really focused on this digital network and we hope to make an announcement this fall as to really kind of a blowout of what we plan to on digital platforms to highlight the great stories in the conference as well as a lot of the live games. Not just men’s basketball. It’s a big addition for us right now. Beyond that we want to find a home for this championship going forward. We have a new baseball championship which will be happening in Stockton in May, which keeps us busy. Those are the near-term priorities.