In poker, it’s called a tell, and even the greatest of players have them. The legend Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson had them, and even he once coughed up a cool $6 million to Chip Reese.

Chris Standiford is no Doyle Brunson.

Way back in October 2021, just under 2 months into his new gig as Gonzaga athletic director, Standiford spoke with the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Jim Meehan in an extended, wide-ranging interview.

Early in the question-and-answer session, Meehan asked Standiford a question about college athletic realignment, specifically regarding the Big East.

Gonzaga’s name has surfaced recently in realignment chatter. The Big East could be a fit for basketball, but there are so many other considerations involved, including Creighton being the closest school to Spokane. Is there a way to make it work?

What Standiford said next is very revealing, and a particular insight into the conference expansion chatter that has dominated the college sports landscape for the last year.
“First and foremost, there’s a lot of change that’s going to happen in the next eight weeks, 18 months, that will inform a lot of these discussions. There will be some leagues that get larger and possibly express a larger geographic footprint.

The Big 12 is certainly not done yet. Those things will all inform what the answer to that question is. If everybody stays in the traditional eight to 12 (range for membership) and doesn’t push into 16, that makes it more challenging. If you start looking at geography in a nontraditional way, I think there are a lot of things that are possible.”

A direct question about the Big East. A direct answer about the Big 12.

A tell if there ever was one.


The year was 1941 and the Gonzaga football team was in its 16th season overall and 3rd season under Puggy Hunton, a former Bulldog himself who coached for a decade at Gonzaga Prep before taking over the collegiate gridders in 1939. That year, the Bulldogs upset the then-Oregon Webfoots in front of 5,500 at Hayward Field in Eugene, en route to a 6-2 record, their best mark since 1934.

Two years later, the wheels came off for good ol’ Puggy. Gonzaga was shut out, 6-0, by Arizona State to open the 1941 campaign, then lost at Pacific Lutheran a week later. The Bulldogs finished their season with back-to-back shutouts at the hands of Portland and Washington State by a combined score of 96-0.

Less than 3 weeks later, the attack on Pearl Harbor changed the world. It also changed the course of Gonzaga football, which was sidelined because of the war effort.

After the end of World War II — during which many colleges put their teams on hiatus, only to bring them back following the war — the school administration chose not to bring back the Gonzaga football team, which had struggled financially before the war.

The school has not fielded a team since.

You could say the final loss suffered was by Hunton himself. When the school dropped the program, they let Hunton go and reportedly failed to pay him for his final season. He had to drag the Dogs to court for back pay.


Fast forward 8 decades, and the Bulldogs have stayed off the field.

In the meantime, the school has heavily invested into a men’s basketball program that ranks among the best in the country and is among the elite few west of the Mississippi.

That’s why we’re even having this discussion. Because of an Elite Few.

When he joined long-time Zags coach Dan Fitzgerald’s staff in 1990, the program had been stuck in neutral. They were coming off an 8-20 season, the team’s worst in almost 40 years. In Few’s second season behind Fitzgerald, the Bulldogs went 20-10. In Year 4, they made it to the 2nd round of the NIT. The following season, the program had its first NCAA Tournament berth.

Fellow assistant Dan Monson was hired to helm the program in 1997-98 and led the Zags on a then-miraculous Elite 8 run in his 2nd season, with Few still on the bench. And for the tiny private Jesuit university in Spokane, it was indeed a miracle.

But soon, miracles turned into monotony. Since Few was hired in 1999 to replace the Minnesota-bound Monson, the Zags have never missed the NCAA Tournament. They haven’t so much as lost in the first round since 2008. There have been 7 Sweet 16s, 3 more Elite 8 runs and two runner-up finishes, with title-game losses in 2017 and 2021.

Why are they reportedly being courted by some of the top conferences in the country? Why is Big-12 commissioner Brett Yormark cozying up to Standiford and the school’s key decision-makers? Look no further than Few and a strong academic profile that has the school ranked 83rd nationally by U.S. News and World Report, higher than the likes of Kansas, Baylor and Iowa State, among others.

Simply put, Gonzaga is what it is. And that is one compelling package.

Standiford has made it clear that Gonzaga is not interested in joining the arms race that is major college football.

“If we were to align with a different conference, it would be about that conference welcoming us, not about us changing to be like them,” Standiford said, according to the Gonzaga Bulletin. “We are who we are.”

Will that be enough for the Big-12, or even the Big East — though that feels much further from reality — to extend an invite? We’ll see.

But if I’m some of the other schools being bandied about in conference expansion, I’d much rather be in Gonzaga’s position.


You can almost picture it, can’t you?

A random Tuesday in early February, and top-ranked Gonzaga is squaring off with the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse. That certainly makes for a better Tuesday than Pepperdine or Pacific. Then the Zags head home for a tussle with TCU, with a looming matchup against Big 12.

It’s enough to make hoop-heads drool.

And Few a little scared, maybe. But a good scared.

We’ve seen what a primrose path the WCC has been for the Zags, creating year after year — after year after year — of false hope. Win after win lifting Gonzaga in the rankings but doing little to prepare the Bulldogs for the treacherous path that is the NCAA Tournament. They’ve gotten close, many, many times, but never to the mountaintop, the common refrain being that they were never built to weather the storm.

Who knows if the Bulldogs would have beaten eventual champion UConn in the Elite Eight if they’d played Baylor and Oklahoma State in early March instead of Loyola Marymount and San Diego? It’s fools errand trying to play that game.

But here’s the fun thing — we might just find out.

At this point, only time will tell. Unless Standiford does first.