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UNLV, Mountain West left in flux as Pac-12 considers expansion

When former UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood heard UCLA and USC were leaving the Pac-12, he was surprised. He wasn’t shocked.

A major conference realignment shook the college sports world Thursday afternoon as USC and UCLA announced they will move to the Big Ten from the Pac-12 in two years. Livengood, who retired in 2013, said the ramifications will continue to play out during the following months, agreeing with current UNLV Athletic Director Erick Harper.

“College athletics is a landscape that’s ever-changing and ever-shifting at a dramatic pace,” Harper said.

Will the Mountain West be shifting as well? Could UNLV be looking at a new conference?

First understand that USC and UCLA — who joined the Pac-12 when it was known as the Pacific Coast Conference — are moving to get a bigger payday.

“There’s no question that the dollar signs are a huge part of it,” said Livengood, nodding to the fact that the schools could double their TV money, which is driven by football performance, when they jump to the Big Ten. After all, the Big Ten paid $46.1 million to its long-standing members last year and the Pac-12 paid each school $19.8 million.

By adding UCLA and 11-time national college football champions USC, the Big Ten reportedly is looking at a $1 billion payout as its national TV rights expire during the summer of 2023. The Pac-12 is also heading toward media rights negotiations in 2024, now in a substantially weaker position.

UNLV’s situation

The Pac-12 plans to continue with its 10 remaining schools, announcing Friday it will consider adding members.

“The Pac-12 Board of Directors met this morning and authorized the Conference to explore all expansion options,” the press release said.

Will the league look in UNLV’s direction? Harper said he is happy as a Mountain West member right now.

“We’re tasked, as leaders on our campus, to review any and all opportunities and make the best decision for our university, our student-athletes, our community and our fans,” he said.

Livengood said all expansion and realignment takes the value of a school into consideration. Harper said UNLV has as many pros as as any other university and the Las Vegas media market carries major value.

However, despite the Rebels’ deep men’s basketball history, UNLV’s 10-32 football record during the past four seasons could mean the Pac-12 looks elsewhere since football drives the dollars.

Other Mountain West schools like Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State, with more recent success in football, might be higher priorities. Additionally, none of those schools — UNLV included — are members of the Association of American Universities, something the Pac-12 has valued in the past.

Mountain West waits

Livengood doesn’t think the Mountain West’s fate is in its own hands. Instead it will be forced to wait and see what happens to the other conferences, namely the Pac-12 and the Big 12.

That’s because there are many options, including:

— Merging with the Big 12, which is still recovering from its loss of Oklahoma and Texas to the Southeastern Conference last summer.

— Adding a few Mountain West members.

— Or, potentially calling it quits, especially if the Big Ten comes calling for Washington and Oregon. The Mountain West could be in line to add schools like Washington State or Oregon State if this happens.

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson did not return calls for comment, but geography will be a bigger factor in his conference than the Pac-12. With limited TV contracts compared to Power 5 conferences, traveling costs become a restrictive factor if the Mountain West expands.

“There’s just so many moving parts,” Livengood said. “It’s hard to say, ‘If A happens we’ll do B, or if C happens,’ — You can get a headache thinking about this stuff pretty quick.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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