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Graney: UNLV’s interim AD navigates uncertain future

College athletics is more winds of change than anything else right now. Things are happening faster than Tyreek Hill runs a go-route.

A foremost concern of non-Power Five schools: Don’t get left behind. Don’t get beat downfield.

Erick Harper sits in the seat at UNLV most responsible for understanding the national landscape and how best the Rebels fit — today and tomorrow and next week and into the future.

He is the university’s interim athletics director, named to the position by president Keith Whitfield in the days following Desiree Reed-Francois’ departure to Missouri.

Nobody had to direct Harper to his new office. He has spent 31 years in college athletics. Senior associate athletics director. Associate athletics director. Development. Fundraising. Marketing. Compliance. Sports administrator. The man has played more roles than Daniel Day-Lewis.

“It’s just how I learned in this profession,” Harper said. “I had a mentor at Kansas State — (former athletics director) Steve Miller — who always said that regardless of what your (position) is, pay attention to what’s going on. So that whenever you get an opportunity to sit in this seat, you have educated yourself.”

He has seen —and apparently done — everything in the world of college administration.

Chaotic times

But these are different, chaotic, uneasy times. It’s bordering on bedlam. Texas and Oklahoma have jumped to the Southeastern Conference, for goodness sake. Brigham Young is one of four programs to have accepted invitations to the Big 12. Schools are positioning themselves as if not blocking out and securing the next rebound means permanent expulsion from the party.

Whatever that ultimately looks like.

It’s no different for the Mountain West.

The recent wave of conference realignment hasn’t yet crashed upon the league from which UNLV competes. It might not. Things could remain calmer than summer mornings off the shores of San Diego.

Probably not.

When reports surface that the American Athletic Conference is interested in poaching four of your current members (UNLV was not among those listed), it’s time to quickly schedule a conference call with everyone involved.

It’s simple: The Mountain West should remain as is for now, which with the recent departure of three AAC schools to the Big 12, makes it the most powerful Group of Five league.

It would have been beyond shortsighted for Boise State and San Diego State and Air Force and Colorado State to depart for the AAC. Which is why they all declined. Much better off staying put. And when/if the next round of Power Five expansion arrives, well, all bets are off.

“I don’t think anything surprises anyone any more in college athletics,” Harper said. “There’s probably just more moving parts right now than when I first started in the profession. It is a constantly changing landscape. We all know change is inevitable. You do what’s best for your institution and department.

“Everything else will fall into place. You can’t control everything.”

Decision to come

The same goes for who Whitfield will ultimately name as the full-time athletics director. It’s a decision that is expected to come in early 2022 and will include outside candidates.

Harper just continues to work, evaluating programs and keeping on top of all the happenings within the conference and embracing what would be viewed as small but no less significant moments.

Like when two of the school’s volleyball players stopped by his office recently just to check in. Just to say hello.

“Sitting in this chair, you have an opportunity to impact the lives of student-athletes,” Harper said. “I know that sounds like a cliche, but somebody did it for me so I want to pay it forward. I think I have an opportunity to influence some of the next leaders of our country.”

I don’t know if he will get to occupy the chair on a full-time basis.

If not, it won’t be for a lack of experience in his field.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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