UNLV should continue football relationship with BYU

It might sound crazy today — you know, fresh off an embarrassing 55-7 loss to a Brigham Young football team best described as dead-flat average — but it wouldn’t be in UNLV’s best interest to stop playing the Cougars.

And, given what we saw from Provo on Saturday, I have to believe BYU would be in favor of continuing to roll over the Rebels at every chance.

The immediate, short-sighted response by most Mountain West Conference schools once BYU announced it was bolting for football independence in 2011 was to shut out the Cougars like a furious spouse might her unfaithful husband.

Vanish them on any future schedule.

Don’t take their calls.

Treat them as if they don’t exist.

It’s not the best strategy, not for anyone who can recognize the big picture, which most fans usually can’t.

Take the Rebels: They aren’t very good at football. They’re pretty dreadful. They have reached a point in Bobby Hauck’s first season as head coach where it appears they are merely playing out the string until a stable of new recruits arrives, never an attractive thought and always a bit disturbing to watch.

Is it possible for a game to be over after two series?

It was Saturday.

The Rebels right now appear to be about as mentally tough as a third-grader caught up in a middle-school fight.

Hauck deserves to be evaluated as a coach once those players he signs are the ones performing, but that doesn’t make what’s now happening weekly under his watch any less forgettable.

That wasn’t your father’s BYU kicking tail Saturday.

That wasn’t even your brother’s BYU.

But football at UNLV isn’t the only thing hurting. Budgets are.

Financial cuts across the state system eventually filter down to different departments, and athletics isn’t spared. The one thing BYU has produced when visiting for football is an attendance figure the Rebels only dream about most weeks.

UNLV can’t and shouldn’t let any lingering anger over BYU leaving the conference stop it from scheduling the Cougars in future seasons.

They are a guaranteed gate attraction, and unless UNLV can find a nonleague opponent who will assure them such a consistent following, it would be silly not to schedule BYU.

The Cougars will also have a television package that could potentially offer a team such as UNLV more national exposure than it receives now, which is to say any exposure would be an upgrade.

Exposure is good for recruiting, assuming UNLV under Hauck reaches the point of not being a weekly three-touchdown underdog.

“I would like to have a game with our Mountain West Conference opponents, hopefully on a yearly basis as far as filling out our schedule,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said last week. “Whether they feel the same way, I’m not certain. I’m really working hard to make sure we play in all parts of the country and certainly where (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith) is gathered so there can be a connection between them and our team.

“Las Vegas is one of those places. It’s a fantastic place where I’d like us to return as frequently as possible. There are other parts of the country with a similar LDS base, so it might not be annually, but it would be nice to visit every two to three years to make sure that connection is made.”

One connection sure to end is BYU making itself at home in the Las Vegas Bowl each December. The Cougars have played in five straight, a streak that will end this season and actually force the selection committee to spend more than 10 seconds deciding who to invite from the Mountain West, assuming its champion goes to a Bowl Championship Series game.

“It has been a great relationship with BYU,” said Tina Kunzer-Murphy, executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl. “But we’re going to be fine and they’re going to be fine. We’re excited about getting some new blood into our game.

“What can you do? You wish BYU well. Them going independent was disappointing for us. They were a great fit for our game, but we’re ready to move on.”

She doesn’t have much of a choice. UNLV does.

If the big picture matters at all, 55-7 on Saturday wasn’t the last time the Rebels will play BYU in football.

Next time, maybe the game won’t be over after two series.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at or 702-383-4618. He can also be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” FOX Sports Radio 920 AM.


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