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Las Vegas Bowl can thrive without Pac-12, executive director says

John Saccenti looked around Allegiant Stadium, saw the venue packed with fans from the football programs of Washington and Oregon, saw folks screaming and yelling and became a tad emotional.

“It was awesome,” Saccenti said. “I said, ‘I can’t believe there’s not going to be a Pac-12.’ I’m the guy who sees someone crying and wants to cry. I can’t believe it happened to the Pac-12. I hate that it happened.”

Saccenti, the executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl, was speaking about the Pac-12 championship game, won by the Huskies 34-31 this month. Now, he will watch as his bowl game stages its final matchup with the Pac-12 as everyone has known it.

Utah (8-4) of the Pac-12 will meet Northwestern (7-5) out of the Big Ten on Saturday at Allegiant Stadium.

The Pac-12 collapsed under the weight of conference realignment. Only two members — Oregon State and Washington State — will remain after this school year.

The Las Vegas Bowl currently has three partners — the Pac-12 sends one team every year to the game, while the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten alternate.

But bowl agreements across the country expire after the 2025 season, meaning the Las Vegas Bowl will have two years in which to replace a Pac-12 participant with another team.

The game already has the SEC locked in for next year and a Big Ten team in 2025. It doesn’t mean a Pac-12 school also couldn’t be selected by a differing criteria than the present. Doesn’t mean one will, either.

“I can tell you we’ve caught the interest of the Big 12 given the footprint that it’s very interested in having in our city as well,” Saccenti said. “I don’t know what is going to happen, but I know we have a little time. We have to find a two-year solution, and we’re working on that now. It gives us two years to keep negotiating and working on the future for 2026 and beyond.

“I keep getting asked, ‘Is the bowl in trouble?’ Absolutely not. It’s a two-year issue. We’ll find a great solution before everything starts over new in 2026. I’ll put our game and what we do and where we put it up against anybody.”

The bowl has also had discussions with the Mountain West and, given the resurgence of UNLV’s program under coach Barry Odom, wouldn’t mind a school such as the local Rebels participating in the game for the next few years.

Saccenti points to several factors as to why his bowl will continue to thrive — a $2 billion stadium in which Power Five teams love to play. The proximity to the Strip and its hotel properties. The destination of a sports and entertainment capital of the world. People want to visit Las Vegas. They want to be associated with it.

“But the only way we can continue to grow and put ourselves in position for bigger and better things is if everyone is working together,” Saccenti said. “That means Allegiant Stadium. It means the convention authority being in line with the game, which they already are. That means our resort partners, which they already are.

“If everyone is working together with the same goal of trying to accomplish the same thing — which ultimately puts our city on the map — it will drive our tourism, and we win out every time.”

You won’t find many folks who don’t believe a College Football Playoff semifinal or national championship game won’t eventually be staged in Las Vegas. But what about earlier rounds of the expanded playoff?

If the format eventually changes from playing at school sites in earlier rounds, you wonder if games such as the Las Vegas Bowl might become involved in such a movement.

For now, the Pac-12 is no longer as we’ve known it.

Which means things change for Saccenti’s game.

“There are plans in place that make sense,” he said. “We don’t know where it’s all going to land just yet, but we know how attractive this game is to teams and their fans.”

Contact sports columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @edgraney on X.

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