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Graney: UNLV’s NIL initiative connects with Power Five dreams

Updated January 26, 2023 - 5:10 pm

The lines are not difficult to read between. It all connects.

UNLV has launched a new initiative to better provide its student-athletes with more opportunities at earning Name, Image and Likeness dollars. That’s a good thing.

That’s being proactive in a world that has grasped hold of college athletics.

But know that Friends of UNILV also aligns with the school’s pursuit of gaining membership into a Power Five conference. That every move the Rebels make to improve the health of their athletic department must target such a goal.

This particular program certainly does. You must be supremely active in this space.

Some of the NIL dollars being handed out to entice the nation’s top athletes to attend a specific school are mind-boggling. If, of course, all those millions are available at all.

“You wonder if it’s actually true or someone is just trying to position themselves for getting a kid to commit and then they get there and it’s not reality,” said UNLV athletic director Erick Harper. “Is it just some marketing ploy to get kids to look at an institution?

“What we’re going to do is stay within the confines of the rules and regulations we’re governed by and hope our student-athletes can maximize their opportunities.”

Reality of things

You can’t recruit directly with NIL dollars, but you can inform prospects that there is a collective assembled of sports fund-raising foundations providing opportunities for NIL money. That’s what UNLV has done.

You have to recruit well at any level to win and such a chore has become far more competitive within the NIL stratosphere. Which school can fatten your bank account the most? It’s just the reality of things.

If you’re a program with Power Five dreams like UNLV, creating ways to deliver such dollars is absolutely necessary. The opportunity for UNLV athletes to earn money through things like appearances and as social media ambassadors and via business and advertising outlets is at least a carrot to temp those considering the Rebels.

It won’t assure in any way the best of the best choose UNLV, but it has every chance of at least making athletes — in any sport — pause when deciding.

There is a bottom line to all of this: When it comes to NIL dollars, there is no fairness for a non-Power Five school. It’s just another area in which they can’t compete.

So when you throw a transfer portal into the equation — kids who see a pot of gold by jumping from a school like UNLV to a power conference — the idea of a level playing field becomes even more remote.

The arms race that is college sports has never been so defined between the haves and have-nots. NIL payouts have made sure of that.

What the Friends of UNILV does is try to, however slightly, narrow that gap.

It’s an important step.

Harper is intent on doing everything possible to make that dream of a Power Five invitation a reality. None of this, however, means UNLV is assuredly headed toward that mountaintop.

It all connects

What it means is that Harper understands the landscape and where things are going. Where they have already been.

That’s what Friends of UNILV is for the Rebels. That’s a good thing.

“We thought about this (initiative) early but wanted to get down the road some to see how it’s all playing out across the country,” Harper said. “It has been on our minds for a while and we felt this was the right time to let everyone know we’re in full support of it.

“We want to make sure we have positioned UNLV to be the best it can possibly be. Whatever happens, happens. But we wanted to make sure we’re in this space.”

It all connects.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter

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