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NCAA championships in Las Vegas? Jerry Tarkanian just rolled over

And so now Las Vegas has become a pretty good town for amateur sports, too.

With the NFL and NHL having become entrenched in Southern Nevada and the NBA’s steam shovel perhaps next in line, the NCAA has wasted little time in securing a Las Vegas foothold of its own.

On Wednesday, it awarded T-Mobile Arena a 2023 men’s Division I basketball regional and the 2026 Frozen Four for hockey — marquee events secured by a coalition that included MGM Resorts International, UNLV, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and Las Vegas Events that also landed lesser NCAA championship events in golf, soccer and bowling.

Bear’s Best will host a 2023 Division I men’s golf regional, Spanish Trail the 2024 Division I women’s golf regional, Boulder Creek Golf Club and The Legacy the 2024 Division III men’s golf championship and Boulder Creek the 2025 Division II women’s and 2026 men’s championships in golf.

South Point gets the 2023 NCAA women’s bowling championship and UNLV’s Peter Johann Field the 2024 Division III men’s and women’s soccer championships.

Once viewed as bitter rivals, the NCAA and Las Vegas are at long last playing ball together.

Jerry Tarkanian would not have believed it.

Fences mended

Do you recall when the former UNLV basketball coach famously said: “The NCAA was so mad at Kentucky they gave Cleveland State two more years of probation?”

Those were fighting words, or at least lawsuit filing words.

Tarkanian and the NCAA would sue and countersue over how the former conducted his powerhouse basketball program. In 1998, the NCAA agreed to pay Tarkanian $2.5 million in an out-of-court settlement. Many viewed it as the biggest upset since North Carolina State over Houston in 1983.

Hostilities between the amateur athletics sanctioning body and Las Vegas — or at least its most recognizable citizen — were such that had the NCAA sponsored a tiddlywinks championship and the city bid on it, it probably would have lost out to Oskaloosa, Iowa.

But torrents of water have since passed under that bridge. They have diluted the once-held opinion that college sports could not peacefully coexist in a city where if two birds landed on a fence post, you could legally wager on which would fly away first.

In May 2019, the NCAA lifted its ban preventing states that have legal sports wagering from bidding on its championship events.

The birds were on the fence post and Las Vegas was ready.

Wrote Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel on his Twitter account: “I wish Jerry Tarkanian was around to see this. NCAA follows NFL/NHL in getting real about sports wagering and seeing Vegas as a community, not just casinos.”

Gaining acceptance

“It’s quite amazing how quickly we’ve gotten to a place where Las Vegas is an accepted home for college sports,” said George Kliavkoff, the MGM’s president of entertainment and sports. “I think we laid a lot of that groundwork with the work that we did with the Pac-12 and some of the other conferences for their basketball tournaments, and it’s paying off today.”

So it was another monumental day in Las Vegas sports that only got more monumental a short time after the NCAA announcement when the 2021 Pro Bowl that was to be played at Allegiant Stadium in January was pushed to 2022.

All kidding about the dubious nature of the pro football all-star game aside, if moving it here from Hawaii was necessary to land the Super Bowl, we’ll gladly take it. The Raiders, it was also learned Wednesday, have offered to host the Super Bowl in 2024 after the NFL opted out of New Orleans because of a conflict with Mardi Gras.

Securing a men’s basketball regional with a first-time bid also can be viewed as an indication of bigger things to come. For instance, should Indianapolis ever release its chokehold on the Final Four — as of 2026, the Indiana capital will have hosted eight such events — Allegiant Stadium will be ready for an even more massive dose of March Madness under its translucent roof.

The hope, of course, is that by then the NCAA will have placed COVID-19 on double-secret probation or at least relegated it to Cleveland State’s place in the bracket.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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