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UNLV’s Desiree Reed-Francois should walk to UCLA if offered job

When it comes to Desiree Reed-Francois and whether the UNLV athletic director might depart for the same job at UCLA, think of a college-level course and a student’s desire to work hard in it. One has nothing to do with the other.

This isn’t apples to apples. Try an apple to a blue and gold watermelon.

I suppose reports could be accurate and Reed-Francois is the leading candidate for what would be a return to her alma mater. If there is a box that defines what a University of California System member school desires in the position, she checks all requirements.

Maybe she has been offered the job. Maybe she never will be. Maybe she’s gone. Maybe she isn’t. That all will be sorted out soon enough.

What it does, however, is again paint a clear reality of the haves and have-nots in collegiate athletics.

As a Group of Five school, UNLV always will be a steppingstone to such advancement. Climbers such as Reed-Francois climb. Nothing wrong with it. She has seen the big time at several previous stops. It’s a hard view to shake.

There is little chance Reed-Francois would turn down UCLA, despite the fact that its insides are a whole lot more challenging than the shiny exterior.

Her welcome party would include an athletic department budget bleeding cash — UCLA reported a $19 million deficit for the 2019 fiscal year. It took a low-interest loan from the university just to balance the books. You don’t just start slashing Olympic sports at UCLA. All they do is win national championships and expect to be funded as such.

Attendance is way down, because no matter what you assume, UCLA’s fan base is one of the more apathetic across Power Five programs. UCLA isn’t Texas or Ohio State or so many others, where the athletic director is more powerful than the president. Those in Westwood care about a lot more than sports.

But it’s UCLA. Reed-Francois should walk there if offered.

The Bruins best UNLV in every phase, save the cost-of-living increase Reed-Francois would inherit. But when talking apples to apples of the Mountain West, the Rebels stand supreme in such an arms race.

There is no Mountain West program more prepared than UNLV to make the jump into such a league as the Pac-12. Allegiant Stadium. Fertitta Football Complex. Mendenhall Center. Marnell Baseball Complex. No conference foe is equal to the Rebels when comparing facilities.

It’s not everything, but it’s still a major piece to getting Power Five interest.

San Diego State and Boise State win a whole lot more at the two most important sports of football and men’s basketball, but neither destination carries the cache of Las Vegas. This isn’t a particularly large TV market, but never discount the importance of now housing NFL and NHL teams. Perception is everything.

The thing is — beyond ticketing and the athletic foundation in need of serious work — UNLV has a major stability problem. These people change high-ranking officials and coaches like most do socks.

Consider: UCLA’s next athletic director will replace the retiring Dan Guerrero, who has held the position since 2002. Since 2003, UNLV has had four athletic directors. Since 2010, it has had four presidents, three head football coaches and five head basketball coaches.

Some of the above retired. Many of the coaches were fired.

Few proved good enough to use that steppingstone. Few were Lon Kruger.

Climbers climb

For as much as UNLV has going for itself — and it’s more than you might think given the ridiculously poor results in two major sports — it has no chance to get where it desires without discovering some level of management and coaching consistency.

If UCLA hires Reed-Francois, it’s a win-win. She gets to run a Power Five athletic department and UNLV can pat itself on the back for helping her get there.

How she would ultimately be judged for her time in Las Vegas wouldn’t be settled for a few years, or at least until it’s known if T.J. Otzelberger in basketball and Marcus Arroyo in football were the correct hires. It’s all that matters.

Hard times, these. Athletic departments at all levels face difficult budget decisions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Where to trim. Where to cut. None of that is going away.

In this manner, and only this manner, UCLA and UNLV have similar problems from different stratospheres of the college food chain.

I’m not yet certain Reed-Francois is gone.

But come on. It’s UCLA.

Problems aside, you walk there if offered.

Climbers climb.

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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