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Boise State, UNR ultimately end up in desired locations

Everyone, in the end, got what they wanted.

Boise State and UNR received their desired bowl invitations, and the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl received the buzz they hoped for with their selections.

But the parties didn’t take a smooth path to get to such a satisfactory place.

Boise State appeared headed to the San Francisco-based Kraft bowl — but the Broncos didn’t want to go. That bowl owned the top selection from the Western Athletic Conference, and it wanted the league’s marquee team.

As Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier noted, Kraft "didn’t need to be" flexible. "They had negotiated the No. 1 pick and had that option," he said.

So how did the situation work out in a way that pleased everyone?

Rewind to Nov. 26 when the Broncos had their Bowl Championship Series and national championship hopes dashed with a 34-31 overtime loss at UNR. That loss created the opening for Las Vegas and San Francisco to chase the Broncos.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson had worked with ESPN, which owns several bowls, including MAACO, to match WAC teams with various games in recent years. MAACO had an at-large spot available because the Pac-10 Conference did not qualify enough teams, and Benson saw an opportunity to send a team to Las Vegas.

"That flexibility (with ESPN) allowed us to go outside our contracted bowls," Benson said.

The bowl matchups would’ve been decided quickly if the decisions had been up to UNR and Boise State.

No. 13 UNR preferred the Kraft bowl because it’s a four-hour drive from Reno, making it an easy destination for Wolf Pack fans. The Wolf Pack also play UNLV in Las Vegas every two years, so coming south would have been familiar to UNR.

Bleymaier said 10th-ranked Boise State wanted the MAACO Bowl because of Las Vegas as a destination city, a ranked opponent in No. 20 Utah and Wednesday’s pre-Christmas date as opposed to Kraft’s kickoff on Jan. 9.

"In balance, it seemed a better fit," Bleymaier said.

But Kraft executive director Gary Cavalli had as his No. 1 choice from the WAC a royal flush in Boise State, and he wasn’t about to give away that hand.

The Broncos are a national household name, they came close to possibly becoming the first team from outside the BCS to make the national title game, and they have a Heisman Trophy finalist in quarterback Kellen Moore.

Cavalli also knew UNR fans didn’t have a good history of traveling to bowls.

One source close to negotiations, who did not want to be named discussing a sensitive topic, said the Kraft bowl "was provided with some compensation" in order to take UNR.

"It was agreed upon," the source said. "It was fair."

The source did not provide financial details but said Boise State was involved.

"I’m not clear on that," Bleymaier said. "It all worked out. They agreed to let us go, and we’re fortunate the Las Vegas bowl made us an offer."

A request for a phone interview with Cavalli was turned down, but he issued a statement via e-mail: "We made the decision to take Nevada based on two factors: 1) Nevada was much more excited about coming to San Francisco than Boise was, and 2) Nevada won the game on the field. Period. End of story."

Cavalli invited UNR after its 35-17 victory at Louisiana Tech on Dec. 4.

"Kraft owned the right to take Boise State, and (Cavalli) dug in up until that Saturday when he finally ceded and agreed to take Nevada," Benson said. "But that was only contingent on Nevada winning that Saturday afternoon. He obviously had reservations about Nevada."

Turns out, however, the San Francisco and Las Vegas bowls got the excitement-generating matchups they craved.

UNR fans bought all 15,369 tickets allotted to the Wolf Pack for their game against Boston College. The MAACO Bowl was on the verge of a sellout late Wednesday afternoon.

"When you have teams that want to be in your bowl game, that’s what you want as the executive director and for the committee," said Tina Kunzer-Murphy, who runs the MAACO Bowl. "We think we have one of the best bowl matchups in the country."

As for how that matchup came about, she chalked it up to "how you conduct business." Behind-the-scenes business that was intriguing and ultimately good for all sides.

"There were," Benson said, "a lot of moving pieces down the stretch."

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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Las Vegas handicapper Bruce Marshall is editor of The Gold Sheet (Goldsheet.com). He provides the Review-Journal with college football tech notes and trends.