When I think of the West Coast Conference’s recent basketball success and retiring WCC commissioner Michael Gilleran, I picture the NBA and commissioner David Stern.
Stern was sitting in the right office at the right time when Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan arrived to turn around a negative image of the NBA. He made a lot of money off his fortunate timing.
Same thing with Gilleran and the WCC. He was in office when Gonzaga emerged as a national power in the past decade, but he otherwise had virtually nothing to do with raising the league’s national profile.
Newly named commissioner Jamie Zaninovich has to be better for the league than Gilleran. If he took Marketing 101, which I assume he did as a Stanford graduate and assistant athletic director and both Stanford and Princeton (he negotiated the Ivy League’s first ESPN contract), he’s already a century ahead of Gilleran.
There are many examples to site of Gilleran sitting in his office and doing nothing. The WCC office is in the Bay Area, but Gilleran often wouldn’t make an appearance at nationally televised games being played down the road at San Francisco, Santa Clara or St. Mary’s.
And there’s the long-standing complaint of Gonzaga coach Mark Few and others that the WCC tournament needed to be moved to a neutral site. The coaches finally got what they wanted when the WCC announced Sunday the 2009 tournament would be played at the Orleans Hotel and Casino arena in Las Vegas.
“I’m proud the league finally figured out what the coaches wanted for the last 18 or 19 years,” Few said. “If you hit them hard over the head enough times, they finally figure it out.”
The sarcasm was dripping from Few’s words.
But here are a few examples I found on my own as the WCC tournament made plans to be played in San Diego this year.
At the Hall of Champions, my day job, we try to have Sports at Lunch events featuring San Diego athletes, events and sports figures. As a non-profit organization, we depend on the generosity of our guests to appear without compensation while knowing their team or sport benefits.
I thought a good idea for the Hall and the WCC would be Sports at Lunch before the WCC tournament, March 6 to 10 at the University of San Diego.
I wanted to gather USD coach Bill Grier, an assistant at Gonzaga for 16 years; Few, Grier’s close friend from their Gonzaga association; and Jud Heathcote, the retired Michigan State coach. Heathcote, who coached the Magic Johnson-led Spartans to the 1979 NCAA title, is a Spokane resident who follows Gonzaga and WCC basketball. He frequently travels to Gonzaga WCC and NCAA tournament games when it doesn’t conflict with Michigan State games.
The ideal time would have been Friday afternoon. The women’s tournament started Thursday, took Friday off and the men’s tournament started with play-in games on Friday night. USD wouldn’t play until Saturday and Gonzaga until Sunday. We would have been happy to include women’s coaches, too.
I checked with Grier and Heathcote, and they were both on board as headliners. Few, understandably, was problematic because he wasn’t scheduled to get to town until Saturday for a Sunday night game.
But when I sought a WCC endorsement for the event, the WCC nixed it. Their reason was they didn’t want to be viewed as playing favorites with USD and Gonzaga.
Give me a break.
Another idea was for the WCC to recognize basketball giant Pete Newell, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, before a San Francisco game. Newell coached USF’s 1949 team to the NIT title, and that was back when the NIT title meant something.
The WCC’s response was the same: They didn’t want to seento be playing favorites.
Are you kidding me? We’re talking about featuring Pete Newell, not Mark Few. That’s like the Pac-10 saying they didn’t want John Wooden recognized at their tournament.
Another idea I could have raised would have been recognizing San Diegan Shannon MacMillan, one of the greatest women’s soccer players in WCC history.
MacMillan, a San Pasqual High alumnus and now a UCLA assistant coach, was the 1995 national college player of the year in 1995 at WCC member Portland and later a World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist for the U.S. national team.
But you know what the answer would have been to that idea.
— TOM SHANAHAN