The long, cold stare between the Gonzaga and Washington basketball programs will finally end. The scheduling part, anyway.
What will ultimately become a decade-long hiatus in the heated series will end in the 2016-17 season when the two sides start a four-year deal to play at their campus arenas.
“I think it’s a very good thing, something our fans have been yearning for,” said Scott Woodward, the Washington athletic director.
Mike Roth, his counterpart at Gonzaga, said coaches Lorenzo Romar of Washington and Mark Few of Gonzaga “were together this weekend with some of the USA Basketball (functions).
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“We knew they were going to play again, we just had to work it out. They sat down and visited and had a great visit. Give credit where credit is due.”
It wasn’t quite that easy. But in March, sources told The Seattle Times the two sides were working to accommodate each other on the schedule, and it appeared only a matter of time before the series resumed.
Gonzaga couldn’t immediately make the move, because it has three Pac-12 teams — Arizona, UCLA and Washington State — on its next two schedules.
Washington opted out of the annual series after the 2006-07 season, saying it needed to play a more “national” schedule. But before that, the two sides had battled over the recruitment of Clarkston forward Josh Heytvelt, and the Zags were one of several schools that alerted the NCAA about improper contact by Washington.
In 2009, the Huskies proposed a three-year deal in which the programs would meet at KeyArena, splitting the available tickets and the gate, but Gonzaga rejected the proposal, feeling the proximity to the UW campus favored the Huskies. Few famously told one national website the chances of that format happening were “about the same as Bigfoot having my baby.”
Meanwhile, Gonzaga’s expanded schedule in the West Coast Conference — from 14 to 18 league games, matching the UW’s Pac-12 commitment — curbed its nonleague opportunities. But Monday, both sides had made nice and were speaking glowingly about the future.
Said Romar in a statement, “There’s a lot of enthusiasm and hype centered around the game when these two teams meet.”
“We always knew we’d resume the series,” Few said. “When we did play Washington, the games were very high intensity, great crowds and great passion.”
Undetermined, for now, is who will play host to the first game in the renewal.
“Hopefully,” said Woodward, “it’ll be more than the four-year agreement.”