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Las Vegas just getting started in pursuit of NCAA championships

Updated October 19, 2020 - 2:36 pm

Wednesday was a day that Jim Livengood waited a long time to experience.

Livengood, a former athletic director at UNLV and two Pac-12 Conference schools, worked for several years to bring NCAA championship events to Las Vegas. He also used his extensive contacts in college sports to impress upon them the importance of overturning the NCAA policy of not allowing states with legal sports wagering to host those events.

But as important as the midweek announcement was that T-Mobile Arena would host a 2023 men’s basketball regional and the 2026 men’s hockey Frozen Four and seven other events would come to Southern Nevada, Livengood knows as well as anyone else the work isn’t done.

In many ways, it’s just beginning.

“Wait till these events start happening with the three events in ’23,” Livengood said. “Then, all of the sudden, it’s going to be a thing, I promise you, where people will say, ‘Why didn’t we do this earlier?’”

Even more on way?

The work also is beginning to attract even larger events such as the Final Four and the College Football Playoff National Championship to Allegiant Stadium. Both have different application processes, with the Final Four overseen by the NCAA and the football championship by an independent body.

Landing a basketball regional is a promising sign for Las Vegas eventually getting a Final Four. This season’s Final Four is scheduled for Indianapolis, and that city was supposed to host a 2020 regional in March before the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Houston also was set to be a regional host, and that city will be home to the 2023 Final Four.

Russ Yurk, whose company 129 Sports serves as a liaison between the NCAA and potential host cities, said if Las Vegas officials put on a successful regional, that “goes a long way” in the push for college basketball’s ultimate prize.

“The ability to demonstrate success at a championship like that I think gives the men’s basketball committee and the men’s basketball staff confidence that the next step could potentially be a Final Four,” Yurk said. “With Vegas’ track record to this point with Allegiant Stadium’s opening, there are going to be a lot of other things like that coming down the road.”

Also, the fact that the NCAA basketball committee told Las Vegas officials to bypass the traditional process of first bidding on early round games and go straight to applying for a regional illuminated the strong interest those who run college sports have in the city.

The earliest a Final Four could be played at Allegiant Stadium is 2027, but the college football championship could be played there as soon as 2025. If the Super Bowl is played there a year earlier, as the Raiders hope, that would bolster Las Vegas’ case to host college football’s title game.

Livengood said it’s just a matter of time before the college basketball and football championships are played in Las Vegas because of the momentum already in place.

“All of this sets up because it’s kind of the next thing in line,” he said.

The planning begins

More immediately for Las Vegas officials, the priority is preparing for the approved events. That means the 2023 championships — Division I men’s golf regional at Bear’s Best Las Vegas and women’s bowling championship at South Point Bowling Center in addition to the basketball regional — will demand the most initial attention.

Each event has an NCAA championship manager who works with the host city to assist with planning. Such planning includes the manager and sport’s committee chairperson visiting the host city several months before the doors open to walk through the site, check out the hotels and examine off-site venues such as where fan fests take place.

“It’s not so much checking up on the host,” Yurk said. “It’s really there to be a resource and just a planning session at that point.”

Some of the planning involves Las Vegas officials visiting other cities hosting these events to see what can be duplicated and what might be done differently.

But those same officials also will draw upon their histories of hosting other major events, such as the Consumer Electronics Show and major championship boxing matches that draw worldwide audiences.

Such events have set Las Vegas apart, and one of the challenges will be to continue to distinguish itself when the NCAA championships begin rolling into town. George Kliavkoff, MGM Resorts president of entertainment &sports, said it will take a team effort to make it happen in working with UNLV, Las Vegas Events and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in conjunction with the NCAA.

“(It) is a weeklong celebration that we uniquely do in Las Vegas,” Kliavkoff said.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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