Gonzaga is close to finalizing an agreement to play Alabama this December for the return of the Battle in Seattle.
The matchup would feature two probable top-10 teams and includes a neutral-site return game the following season in Birmingham, CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein tweeted.
The Zags scuttled the Battle in Seattle in 2016 after a 13-year run at KeyArena, partly because of issues lining up marquee opponents every season.
It hasn’t been an option the last few years as KeyArena was redeveloped into Climate Pledge Arena, which will be home of the NHL Seattle Kraken beginning in October, but Gonzaga never closed the door on resuming the Battle in Seattle at some point.
“It was a great event for us all those years,” GU athletic director Mike Roth said. “Two things happened to us when we quit doing the Battle. We were struggling to find the right opponents in that environment. If we’re going to move it out of Spokane and replace a home game with the Battle in Seattle, we wanted to make sure we have a high-level opponent and the facility to play it in.”
Roth stopped short of saying the BIS would become an annual event.
“It’s going to be an annual evaluation,” he said. “If we could get the right opponent every year … our presence in Seattle has been great.”
Alabama certainly meets the “right opponent” standard. The Crimson Tide won the SEC title last year for the first time since 2002 and the SEC Tournament championship for the first time since 1991. They lost to UCLA 88-78 in overtime in the Sweet 16.
Alabama is No. 5 and No. 7 in CBS Sports’ Top 25 and 1 and ESPN’s way-too-early Top 25, respectively. Gonzaga is No. 1 in both polls.
Alabama is expected to return four of its top seven scorers and added five-star point guard JD Davison, four-star center Charles Bediako and transfers Nimari Burnett (Texas Tech) and Noah Gurley (Furman).
The Battle in Seattle was popular with Gonzaga fans, but attendance dipped when the Zags weren’t facing a well-known opponent. Gonzaga was 13-4 in Battle in Seattle games, including five straight wins capped by an 86-79 victory over Tennessee in 2015.
Gonzaga-Tennessee drew a BIS record crowd of 16,770. The 2013 Gonzaga-South Alabama game was watched by a BIS-low 9,140 fans.
“We’ve had some great crowds and great games, going all the way back to the first one (an overtime win) against No. 3 Missouri,” Roth said. “We had an overtime game with (No. 2) UConn, Adam Morrison’s banker to beat Oklahoma State.
“We have a lot of alums and benefactors in the area. It’s a fantastic opportunity. It’s just one that we don’t really want to say we’re going to do it every year when we don’t know if we’ll be able to.”
Zags expected to entertain Texas this season
Gonzaga and Texas are still scheduled to face each other the next two seasons, but the venues will be reversed, according to a Rothstein tweet.
The Zags will entertain the Longhorns this season with the return game the following season in Austin.
The series was originally scheduled to begin in Austin last season but it was pushed back in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.