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Bowl benefits outweigh financial setbacks for Rebels

Tina Kunzer-Murphy has changed hats. She spent every waking moment the last few weeks, which was substantial given she likely never slept, making deals and calling in favors and pleading her case and presenting facts and arguing her case.

It was all in the quest of landing UNLV’s football team a bowl berth.

The Rebels have one.

Now, it’s about paying for it.

The athletic director has become the businesswoman.

“You can’t put a price on this,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “I don’t want to sound (financially) irresponsible. We’re going to do everything we can to manage our expenses. We’re going to do our due diligence. But there are other reasons you go to a bowl.”

Her point: You don’t accept a postseason game in 2013 to make money. You don’t agree to play North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1 with the idea your athletic department’s bottom line is going to realize a sudden influx of cash.

You do so because of this: That on a Monday afternoon following bowl announcements across the country, a head coach and four of his leading players can hold a press conference and talk about success, about growth, about reaching milestones their program hasn’t known in 13 years, about tangible evidence that UNLV football is no longer a punch line, but rather a team capable of producing a winning record and competing in its conference and for the reward that is a bowl game.

You do so because in the ever-competitive world of recruiting, nothing beyond immediate playing time gets a young man’s attention quicker than more wins than losses and being on national television come Jan. 1.

You do so as much for the future as present.

“It takes great character, which our guys have, to believe something before you see it,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “But all this stuff — a (7-5) record, a bowl game — is evidence that we are making progress the right way rather than trying to find signs of it. People, recruits, can see it now.”

Some teams lose $1 million or more going to a bowl game, but UNLV likely won’t.

It could lose high six figures, but will do everything it can not to.

The math becomes fuzzy in these situations. The Heart of Dallas Bowl publicizes a payout of $1.2 million per team, but the Rebels won’t see near that big a return. This isn’t a contracted bowl with the Mountain West, meaning there will be a different and perhaps higher level of financial commitment on UNLV’s side than if it played in one of those six games.

There are recent studies that suggest most conferences made money on bowls in 2012, including a Mountain West that reportedly received $5.7 million in payouts and whose teams had $3.4 million in expenses.

But while conferences typically help some with expenses for their teams to participate in bowls and later distribute money from a league-wide pool of postseason revenue, it’s still on the individual institution to limit expenditures as best it can.

The average bowl team can lose upwards of $150,000 on unsold tickets alone, making it incumbent on a school such as UNLV to entice as many interested parties as possible to open their wallets and head to Dallas, be it taking a charter flight through a university-offered package or students buying tickets at a reduced price and traveling to the Lone Star state via bus.

UNLV is reportedly on the hook for at least $200,000 in tickets to the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

It’s not a small number.

“The bottom line is, this is for our student-athletes as a reward for a great season,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “We need to get the community engaged about traveling with us. We have a lot of work to do between now and the game, but we’ll be ready.”

There was a story on ESPN.com this week that ranked all 35 bowl games from best to worst. The writer tabbed the Heart of Dallas Bowl dead last, behind even that epic matchup of San Diego State against Buffalo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

But to the head coach and four leading players sitting at a table at UNLV on Monday, a Jan. 1 bowl game in Texas means everything. It signifies growth, success, promise, as far away from recent two-win seasons as the mind can imagine.

The price tag for such a reality might not be what some believe is reasonable, but no one ever said a three-hour commercial for your university on the year’s biggest day for college football comes without cost.

“No program is guaranteed a bowl game each year,” UNLV senior defensive lineman Tyler Gaston said. “This is something we can show future recruits, that faith through adversity stands for something, that you can start from the bottom and through hard work and dedication achieve your goals.

“Our program will be better for this (bowl) experience.”

For once, cost is secondary.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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