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Las Vegas Bowl changes a step forward for hosting College Football Playoff

Updated June 4, 2019 - 6:34 pm

Progress is still impossible to create without change, a truth made even more evident with how Las Vegas is now viewed across the college football landscape.

Which is to say a major player.

Welcome to the Big Boys table.

John Saccenti might not have caused those vetting candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize to take notice Tuesday, but he certainly earned a courtesy car as executive director of the local bowl.

He doesn’t receive such a perk. That needs to change. Find the man something sleek.

He helped orchestrate a bowl game in which three Power Five leagues agreed to a rotating matchup, including those from the Southeastern Conference embracing a pre-determined matchup out West.

Gorbachev might have struggled executing such a deal.

With a state-of-the-art NFL stadium for the Raiders will now come a bowl that will feature the Pac-12 as an anchor participant, its opposition being either a Southeastern Conference or Big Ten team over a six-year agreement that begins in 2020.

New frontier

But will one move away from Sam Boyd Stadium and the Mountain West as a partner deliver an even greater event in time, as a potential site for a College Football Playoff championship game will soon host the NFL and UNLV football, along with this new-and-much-improved Las Vegas Bowl?

“The one thing that’s for sure is that this (bowl) announcement doesn’t hurt those chances,” said Saccenti on Tuesday, when he led a news conference announcing the change and might have smiled more than Will Ferrell in “Elf.” “We have a brand new stadium that would certainly get the interest of the CFP. We certainly have the hotel rooms. And now we have three of the most powerful conference commissioners buying into Las Vegas.”

The CFP final sites are set through 2023, meaning those running the game’s grandest show would have a clear understanding of the Raiders Stadium and how their event might play in Southern Nevada when it comes time to determine future hosts.

It was always part of a grand plan for the Las Vegas Bowl, as far back as 2001, when it and the then-Pac 10 became postseason partners: Build something that would over time mature into that which could alter perception of the town at the highest degree.

Now, leading college executives like Jim Delany, the retiring Big Ten commissioner of 30 years, thinks the new bowl matchup and venue puts Las Vegas squarely in the conversation for a season’s final game.

“People come to Las Vegas, regardless,” said Delany, who attended the announcement alongside commissioners Larry Scott of the Pac-12 and Greg Sankey of the SEC. “But you also have to give more than one reason sometimes, so this is now a football reason and a Las Vegas reason. This (bowl) game is definitely a major step forward in the college football community, including the College Football Playoff.”

Matter of when, not if

Marc Badain also spoke, the Raiders president reiterating the idea that the team’s vision was to always attract new events while enhancing and augmenting existing ones for the stadium, to place on such a stage some of the world’s biggest sporting draws. The CFP championship qualifies.

Of the seven who spoke Tuesday, only two mentioned the Mountain West and its history with the bowl. Makes sense. Bigger was always going to mean better, and the Group of Five league that houses UNLV was never going to move the needle nationally when it came to a new NFL stadium hosting such a postseason game.

It’s about progress, and Las Vegas on Tuesday took another step toward eventually hosting a CFP championship, meaning if it doesn’t get Nick Saban and Alabama for any of the bowl matchups, it would absolutely have a chance at the end of a particular season.

“I don’t think it’s a question of if Las Vegas gets (the CFP), but of when,” said former UNLV athletics director Jim Livengood, in attendance Tuesday. “Too many things have and are falling together to make it happen. This needs to be the capital city of sports. College football will play a huge part in that. The fact these three commissioners came here in person instead of by video conference says a lot.

“This is a big step for the Las Vegas Bowl, but also for the entire community.”

Big Day.

Big announcement.

Big Boys table.

Really, really big smile from the Elf.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. 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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