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New UNLV AD wants to ‘enhance our student-athlete experience’

Erick Harper ambled to the podium Wednesday morning inside the board room at the Thomas &Mack Center to make an endearing admission at his introductory news conference as UNLV athletic director.

“I’m a crier, so bear with me,” he said, flashing a shy smile while withholding tears of joy. “My journey to this day has been filled with so much love and compassion.”

And ambition.

Harper was formally introduced by UNLV president Keith E. Whitfield. His new position is the continuation of a career in athletic administration that began in 1990 at Kansas State.

He was previously the interim athletic director, replacing Desiree Reed-Francois in August after she departed for the same position at Missouri.

“It just reaffirmed why I got into this profession and that’s to help student-athletes, men and women in whatever discipline they have, whatever they want to do,” Harper said of his experience as the interim athletic director. “Just excited to lock in arms and continue to move forward together as we drive this program to consistent excellence and championships — athletically and academically.”

As athletic director, Harper will be tasked with reinvigorating an increasingly tepid fan base amid a general lack of success within school’s two prominent revenue-generating programs: men’s basketball and football.

The basketball team has not qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2013, coincidentally the last year the football team had a winning record and reached a bowl game.

Waning attendance has limited revenue streams, though Harper did express confidence in basketball coach Kevin Kruger and football coach Marcus Arroyo as they look to revive their respective programs.

Harper didn’t detail the specifics of his strategy, nor did he speak specifically about pursuing membership in a Power Five conference — noting that his primary focus for now is on the Mountain West and the success of the student-athletes at UNLV.

“Primarily the main thing we’re going to do is enhance our student-athlete experience. That’s first and foremost every single day in what we do,” Harper said. “Our primary constituents are our student-athletes. That will not change. We will do everything in our power in very strategic ways to be innovative and creative in generating revenue.

“If we take care of our house, everything else will take care of itself,” he added.

Harper said he plans to strengthen relationships between UNLV and the professional franchises in the market, listing the Raiders, Golden Knights, Lights, Aces, UFC and the Aviators.

He hopes the Rebels can collaborate, creating a holistic community sporting experience.

“If we can sit in the room and have a collaborative conversation and have our mindset to be thinking about the community of Las Vegas … I think as one we can do great things,” Harper said. “UNLV athletics is 365, 24/7. We’re here year round. We have 17 sports. We’ll be able to be in your face and building our brand every single day.”

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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