Zags and 'Nova mulled game in Ireland

Gonzaga makes its debut in the Jimmy V Classic in New York Tuesday night against Villanova, another sort of scheduling milestone for the Zags. Amid the welter of November/December pre-conference showcases, the Jimmy V annually brings together some of the choicest brands in college hoops.

It also brings to light the kaleidoscope of scheduling possibilities out there for Gonzaga, especially now that it has joined the gentrified class of those who have reached a Final Four. Some of those discussions ultimately result in nothing tangible -- scheduling being a moving target of date, opportunity, prestige and who-knows-what-else -- while others remain live possibilities.

Here’s one of the former: For a good long while, it appeared Gonzaga and Villanova were going to play a game in Dublin, Ireland, next season (2018-19).

“For a while there, it looked like it was going to work,” says GU athletic director Mike Roth. “I wouldn’t say it was the 11th hour (that it broke off), but we thought it was pretty darned close.”

It seems that Fox, a Big East TV partner, discussed with Villanova, the 2016 national champion, a game in Dublin with Notre Dame, figuring it might appeal because of the heavy Catholic population in Ireland. Before that, there had been murmurs of trying to bring Villanova west for a Battle in Seattle appearance, which obviously didn't pan out.

The Dublin idea stalled on Notre Dame’s end, and that’s when Gonzaga entered the picture. Villanova and Fox each projected Gonzaga, and its Jesuit underpinning, as a good fit alongside 'Nova's Catholic roots But it proved to be too much of a logistical challenge.

“It really wasn’t one thing,” Villanova associate athletic director Josh Heird told me. “It was, ‘Where do we even start?’ “

Everything from the proper arena to sponsorship to promotion was a questionmark, and, says Heird, who coordinates Villanova basketball scheduling, “This thing, we would have been doing it on our own. I don’t want to speak for Gonzaga, but there’s not a lot of manpower in this athletic department. We’re not a Power 5 (school). We don’t have a bunch of resources we can throw at things.

“We just thought, ‘We’re biting off more than we could chew right now.' ”

But he adds: “I think there might be something we could do two or three years down the road.”

Says Roth: “I’m sure sometime in the future we’ll have them on the schedule; you never can tell.” He mentions “getting creative with games out of the normal markets.”

OK, so here’s some creative license: Don’t be surprised if Gonzaga gets involved in an event with similarities to the Champions Classic that annually involves Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and Michigan State. The four teams play an annual doubleheader at rotating sites (a game apiece), with the opponents switched each year in a three-year cycle. In this model, Gonzaga’s “host” games likely would be in Seattle (KeyArena’s long-debated renovation should get off the ground soon) or in Portland.

Meanwhile, the alliances with Villanova and Creighton -- Friday night’s opponent in Spokane -- can’t hurt. In the past, the Big East and the Zags have mulled whether Gonzaga could ever be an expansion fit, and -- however incongruous the geography -- it could someday be an option if realignment pushes that league to try to forge a nationwide profile.