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NFL stadium would give Las Vegas neutral site college football option

In a four-paragraph story in the Review-Journal posted May 7, 2015, it was revealed Brigham Young would play Arizona in a neutral site football game on Sept. 4, 2021, at Sam Boyd Stadium.

The neutral site game, arranged by Las Vegas Bowl director John Saccenti and his staff, will complete a series between the independent Cougars and Pac-12’s Wildcats, who will line up at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, in a few weeks and again in Tucson, Arizona, in 2016. A third game was to be played in Provo, Utah, in 2020 before it was switched to Las Vegas.

Teams from the power conferences generally do not like to engage teams from nonpower conferences on the latter’s home turf, because this is where upsets occur and perfect seasons are spoiled.

A lot of conference shuffling and recruiting violations will take place between now and when the Cougars and Wildcats buckle their chin straps in Las Vegas. But a proposed 65,000-seat domed stadium, to be built by Las Vegas Sands Corp., Majestic Realty and the Oakland Raiders, makes these neutral site college games a topic worth revisiting.

Las Vegas Events president Pat Christenson recently was speaking wistfully, noting that if the city had access to a stadium with bells and whistles, Las Vegas could host more of these neutral site contests — or maybe even a weekly series with a TV deal, a la Monday Night Football.

After seeing some of the payments the Power 5 juggernauts are demanding and how the TV deals are structured, he concedes there would be challenges to hosting a weekly series of neutral site games.

“You’re looking at $5 million guarantees,” Christenson said.

But the nonpower conference teams wouldn’t ask for as much up front. That’s why BYU vs. Arizona could work, or BYU vs. anybody. Or Boise State vs. Arizona State, or Boise State vs. anybody.

It would boost ticket sales if at least one of the participants had a strong regional following.

“You could have two of those and maybe USC and Alabama,” Christenson said. “You could do one big game, and maybe two with BYU or Boise State, who want to play a power conference, but the power conference does not want to go to their stadium.”

Tom Holmoe, the longtime BYU athletic director who has three Super Bowl rings from his days as a San Francisco 49ers defensive back, expressed enthusiasm about becoming a semi-regular visitor.

“I am looking forward to working with Pat Christenson and his peers on potential future neutral football games in Las Vegas,” Holmoe said via email. “One other vital piece in the equation is the support of the UNLV athletic department. I felt that it was important and that we needed their permission to participate in a college football game ‘on their turf.’ ”

Sometimes the parties grumble behind the scenes. Every time Alabama plays Southern California at Jerry’s World (aka AT&T Stadium), it increases the possibility Alabama will play Chattanooga at Bryant-Denny Stadium. When a Power 5 team plays a big game at a neutral site, it reduces the quality of the nonconference home schedule. Season-ticket holders feel shortchanged.

But it doesn’t appear neutral site games will go the way of the fullback or the flanker any time soon. There are 18 neutral site games on the 2016 college football schedule. BYU will play two. In addition to meeting Arizona, the Cougars will face West Virginia in Landover, Maryland, on Sept. 24.

Two Mountain West members will play at a neutral site — against each other. New Mexico will meet Air Force Oct. 15 at the historic Cotton Bowl. Nothing against the triple option, but slightly more intriguing is the neutral site game pitting Tennessee against Virginia Tech Sept. 10. That one will be played in Bristol, Tennessee, at Bristol Motor Speedway, which also is sort of historic.

So Pat Christenson would like to see Las Vegas declare itself an eligible receiver of neutral site college football games — and perhaps host a second bowl game with ties to the power conferences, and perhaps a playoff quarterfinal if the field is expanded from four to eight teams.

But why stop there?

If the dome’s backers added an additional 15,000 seats to the proposed stadium, Las Vegas could bid on the national championship game, he said.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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