UNLV now apparently has an important ally in its efforts to bring NCAA-sanctioned events back to Las Vegas.
Such events aren’t allowed under NCAA rules because of legalized sport betting in Nevada, but NCAA President Mark Emmert said change might be coming.
Emmert said he attended the Mountain West, Pac-12 and West Coast Conference basketball tournaments in March in Las Vegas. Those events are allowed to take place in Las Vegas. An NCAA regional, however, wouldn’t be allowed under current rules.
“I think the membership is trying to figure out what’s the right way to approach this issue again,” Emmert said Wednesday at the Intercollegiate Athlete Forum in New York, according to ESPN.com. “Where does the membership want to be in this space? How do you manage what often seems to be a hypocritical stance? Let’s talk about it.”
The time for talk will be at the NCAA Convention from Jan. 14 to 16 in San Antonio. The Mountain West will issue a proposal on behalf of UNLV and UNR to allow championship events in Nevada.
“We’ve become a Mecca for postseason college basketball tournaments,” UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said. “It just makes sense when you have two member institutions in great standing and we do everything that we need to do. Our student-athletes deserve an opportunity to host championships.”
The new Las Vegas Arena, a state-of-the-art facility, would be able to handle such events as the men’s basketball regional finals, the women’s basketball Final Four, the men’s hockey Frozen Four or the wrestling championships. The men’s basketball Final Four has been contested in larger domed stadiums for the past decade.
“I don’t think it’s just the (basketball) regional,” Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson said. “A regional, if you get it, is every three or four years. It’s being able to compete for all of the NCAA competition.”
Christenson said he was pleased Emmert used the word “hypocritical” when noting that conference tournaments can be played in Las Vegas but not NCAA events.
“I think that’s a statement in itself,” Christenson said. “To me, the reason this is good news is that we get treated like every other market. I don’t know why they should isolate Las Vegas or keep Las Vegas out of the mix. Why should Las Vegas be penalized? And we always have been.”
The ban has been in place since 2009. UNLV had hosted NCAA postseason play, with the women’s basketball tournament played four times there, the last in 1991.
In 2014, UNLV’s baseball team was in contention for a No. 1 seed, and the school submitted the paperwork to host a regional knowing it would get denied. The issue became moot when injuries affected the Rebels late in the season and they became a No. 2 seed at Corvallis, Ore.
But Kunzer-Murphy wanted to make sure the application was submitted.
“We felt really strong about it,” she said.
At the time, an NCAA spokeswoman provided this reasoning for its Nevada ban to The New York Times: “This policy is in place to ensure the integrity of the game, provide consistency in awarding NCAA championships and to address concerns for student-athlete well-being.”
Now Emmert has taken a different stance, and it’s potential game-changer.
Will it be enough for the membership to pass the proposal in San Antonio?
“You never know what the membership will do,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “I think it will be really important how the power-five conferences look at this. The Pac-12 having their postseason tournament here, I had a couple of conversations with the ADs over the last few months. I hope that we have their support, but nobody’s taken a straw vote.”
— Contact Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow on Twitter: @markanderson65