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Graney: UNLV’s Power 5 dreams dependent on TV dollars

Updated July 20, 2022 - 3:53 pm

There is this idea that you have to be good at football to be considered for inclusion in a Power Five conference.

That a program such as UNLV would never receive such an invitation given its losing ways between the goalposts for decades now.

The idea is wrong.

Huh?

Football success means nothing in 2022 when talking about a Group of Five school possibly being invited to the big kid’s table and all the riches it represents.

Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Television is the lone key by which all decisions are made. How many eyeballs can you bring to the argument? What is the value your institution represents in such an arms race?

Everything is about television dollars in college football. Nothing else matters.

“We’re in this revenue race and it’s based solely and totally on television revenue,” said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson. “The education component hasn’t taken a back seat, but isn’t as pressing as it once was. Geography has been thrown out the window. Rivalries. History. Things that don’t mean as much to people any more.”

Position oneself

The annual conference football preseason media poll is out and UNLV is picked fifth in the West Division, ahead of only Hawaii.

While improving on the scoreboard would undoubtedly be viewed as a positive in many ways, it isn’t the central reason UNLV might ultimately find itself in a conference such as the Pac-12.

The odds of such an occurrence might rival those of the Rebels having a Heisman Trophy winner on their roster. But as conference realignment continues to jolt the college world like a massive tsunami, positioning oneself in the best light is a minimal requirement.

“I don’t want to pretend I don’t listen about (conference expansion),” UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo said. “We have to keep an eye on everything, but our main focus is our football team. The landscape of college football is crazy. I have no control over the movement. But there are reasons my family and coaching staff and team are excited we’re here at this time.”

Here’s why: If San Diego State is the most coveted of Mountain West schools on any expansion list — what with its Top 30 television market and Southern California presence and recruiting base now that USC and UCLA have announced their eventual departures to the Big Ten —which school ranks second makes for an interesting argument.

Why not UNLV?

It has pluses to be sure.

It plays out of Allegiant Stadium, one of the finest venues in college football. Its boosters have already proven willing to dispense with Name, Image and Likeness dollars. Its basketball program — despite having struggled of late — has a history and pedigree to it.

There is no hotter sports town right now than Las Vegas, or haven’t you noticed how many Power Five leagues have made Southern Nevada home for marquee events?

And as gaming becomes more and more a central part of any sporting endeavor, what better place to promote a major conference than Las Vegas, where the NCAA has already decided to host championship play?

Cutting the pie

Problem: All of those would-be advantages aren’t in play if a Power Five league doesn’t believe the nation’s 40th-ranked market is worth splitting up its financial pie of television revenue.

Bottom line: What, if any, Mountain West school would be enticing enough for, say, the Pac-12 to do so?

Maybe (probably ) none at this time.

“If someone gets a call to — in their mind — improve their brand and the interest in the program and make more television revenue, there’s very little any commissioner could do to say, ‘Please stay,’” Thompson said.

Not sure that call ever comes for UNLV. But if it does, its football team’s record won’t be why.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. 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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