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Could BYU, Gonzaga opt out of WCC Tournament?

The NCAA has mandated that teams must have seven consecutive days of negative tests prior to arriving in Indiana for the NCAA Tournament, which tips off March 18.

FILE - In this March 10, 2020, file photo, Gonzaga players celebrate after defeating Saint Mary’s in an NCAA college basketball game in the final of the West Coast Conference men’s tournament in Las Vegas.
John Locher, Associated Press

Could both BYU and Gonzaga opt out of the West Coast Conference Tournament?

The tournament is scheduled for March 4-9 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The No. 1 Zags are a lock for the NCAAs and don’t need to play in the WCC Tournament, especially in a year when there’s a pandemic going on.

But what about the Cougars, who play Thursday at Pacific after a 10-day layoff and are projected to earn a berth to the Big Dance? ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has BYU as a No. 8 seed in his most reject projections.

John Canzano, a columnist for the Oregonian, tweeted Tuesday afternoon: “Gonzaga and BYU are weighing whether they should opt out of the West Coast Conference basketball tournament. Nothing in it for either program, except risk of injury, bad loss and infection. They’re both NCAA Tournament bound regardless. WCC ADs are talking about this.”

BYU coach Mark Pope addressed this issue, sort of, during his coach’s show on BYUtv Tuesday night. Pope was asked by host Greg Wrubell, the Voice of the Cougars, if it’s Pope’s intent to take his team to the WCC Tournament.

“Yeah, I mean, listen, my intent right now is to go play on Thursday, although we’ve been this close to several games where we’ve actually flown out and the game hasn’t happened,” Pope said. “That’s the point of intent right now. We’re kind of taking this minute-by-minute. That’s why it’s a little bit silly for anyone to imagine they can set anything in stone right now.”

BYU has three games remaining on its regular-season schedule — Thursday at Pacific, Saturday at Loyola Marymount and Feb. 25 at home against Santa Clara.

While the Cougars seem to be safely in the NCAA Tournament field with a NCAA NET ranking of 29, if they were to lose one, or more, of their final three games, they may need the conference tournament to get into the NCAAs.

Meanwhile, the NCAA has mandated that teams must have seven consecutive days of negative COVID-19 tests prior to arriving in Indiana for the NCAA Tournament, which tips off March 18. Players must have an additional two negative PCR tests before starting practice.

The Zags and Cougars don’t want to jeopardize their opportunities to play in the NCAA Tournament by contracting COVID-19 cases in Las Vegas.

“A lot of teams are considering trying to find the best path ... because this is unprecedented times. These times don’t require us to do the status quo. That might not be the best answer in unprecedented times,” Pope said. “From the Zags’ perspective, they have one goal in mind right now — to win a national championship. There’s that weighing of, ‘What could get in the way of us having a real shot to do that?’ It’s legitimate for that to be considered. What the final answer is or what the outcome is, I don’t know what’s right. I’m sure we have smart people dealing with it that will figure out what’s right. Certainly, you understand the question. These are questions we need to consider.”

The NCAA announced last week that due to the challenges presented by the pandemic, conferences have a deadline of Feb. 26 to submit their automatic qualifier form that lets the NCAA know whether the automatic qualifier is based on the conference tournament champion or the regular season champion.