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NCAA needs to warm up to Las Vegas in staging championship events

Jim Livengood is convinced it’s time, that the NCAA will soon join the masses in supporting a concept of change, of evolving and improving and adapting and enhancing one’s stance on a fairly significant point.

That it will finally remove those antiquated blinders and join reality and begin staging championship competition in Las Vegas.

An immediate thought once the Las Vegas Sands Corp. on Thursday proposed building a $1 billion domed stadium, beyond when stores will begin selling those really cool skull swords featuring a logo for the Las Vegas Raiders, is how quickly the town might host a Final Four.

But should college basketball’s grandest weekend each March finally be staged in the place where its popularity has reached unparalleled levels nationally, the NCAA would have to reverse its standing that championship events are not to be played in states where gambling is legal.

It would have to stop playing in the same sand box as the NFL and finally dismiss such hypocritical and childish edicts by graduating to the big boy table.

“I have never been this optimistic about things changing,” said Livengood, one of the nation’s top administrators and the former UNLV athletic director who now consults on numerous collegiate athletic issues. “The time is right. Many of the hurdles we faced with this issue in the past have been overcome and that’s a credit to Las Vegas and how (sports gaming) is regulated.

“I truly believe we are right on the threshold of this happening. We have never been this close.”

The next major step occurs in April, when the NCAA’s Board of Governors meet and the prospect of staging championship events in Nevada should be a significant topic discussed. Shortly after, the next cycle for cities to bid on championships begins.

It would be a shame — not to mention ridiculously short-sided and laughable — if the board had not by then agreed to evolve and allow Las Vegas to put its best foot forward in trying to land specific events.

But as pleasant a pair as John and James Knight might have been, their formation of a commission in 1989 that identified university presidents as those best to run college athletics might rank as one of most brainless decisions in history. Presidents comprise the Board of Governors, and once you make room for their collective egos, there is often little space remaining for what limited knowledge they have on matters of sport.

But this should help the Las Vegas side of things: Presidents are also more about holding hard and fast onto their positions at the forefront of college athletics than upholding the honor of their universities.

For many, greed is the most apt description.

Home is where the biggest paycheck resides.

For this, it’s not just a new 65,000-seat stadium in Las Vegas that could host championship events and generate impressive revenue streams. It’s also the new T-Mobile Arena and countless other facilities in and around the Las Vegas Strip. Men’s and women’s volleyball. NCAA basketball regionals. Gymnastics. Wrestling. Frozen Four of hockey. Division II events. Division III. NAIA. Junior college.

Not every NCAA championship would work here. Baseball and softball are never coming. But the list of potential events across all levels of college athletics is endless.

It’s a big step for the NCAA and long overdue. Las Vegas is already home to basketball tournaments for the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast and Western Athletic conferences. In the last five years, over 100 schools have played in Las Vegas with no hint of impropriety when it comes to gaming.

But over the years, there sure have been some crazy college betting scandals in places like Boston and Chicago and San Diego …

It’s not that the organization’s strict guidelines against sports wagering for its employees and student-athletes are wrong or misguided — the seminars, the brochures, the posters, the power-point presentations, the numerous articles all provide important information — but the fact it hasn’t been able to separate legislating its family and understanding the incredible lengths Nevada goes to regulating sports gaming is beyond disappointing for supposedly educated folks.

But with respected people like Livengood leading the way, it appears more and more suits within the organization have opened their eyes and minds to allowing for championship play in Las Vegas, which could lead to a domed stadium one day hosting the Final Four, which would put the city on the sort of athletic map it has never known.

“I do think a lot of people, to a large degree, have come to realize the hypocrisy in not coming to Las Vegas,” Livengood said. “I don’t think you’re going to have people sticking their heads in the sand any more and saying, ‘This isn’t right. Let’s wait longer.’ We have spent the last (18 months) visiting with people at a grassroots level across the country explaining why this is the right time.

“I think the time has come for this question to be answered: ‘Why not Las Vegas?'”

Why not, indeed.

Let’s see in April if university presidents agree.

Let’s see if they finally want to sit at the big boy table of reality.

The Review-Journal is owned by a limited liability company controlled by the Adelson family, majority owners of Las Vegas Sands.

— Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney.

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