UNLV and Michigan play in the same level of college football and supposedly under the same set of rules.
But, and this is not breaking news to anyone who follows the sport, their playing fields are anything but even. It’s a reality made especially clear this weekend.
Picking up what should be an easy victory is more important to Michigan than the $1 million the Wolverines are giving UNLV to play the game. The guarantee is more important to UNLV’s athletic department than the chance to play a more beatable opponent.
Michigan won’t miss the money. The Wolverines, in fact, make up to $8 million per home game — more than the $5.5 million for UNLV’s entire football budget this academic year, according to the university’s website. Michigan brings in $65 million in yearly revenue from football alone.
Playing UNLV serves a vital purpose for the Wolverines, giving them an opponent to help pad their record. Michigan opened its season with a 24-17 loss at Utah, then beat Oregon State 35-7 at home Saturday. Next up are the Rebels at 9 a.m. PDT Saturday, followed by a home game against Brigham Young before Big Ten Conference play opens.
Oregon State is down, but in many years, this would be a demanding nonconference schedule with the Rebels as the only breather.
First-year Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked what the Wolverines get out of playing a school such as UNLV, a 34-point underdog.
“Fair, honest, healthy competition, and very much looking forward to it,” Harbaugh replied. “Our players and coaches are getting to know the Las Vegas team, and we’re very impressed. This is a team that plays with a lot of energy, a lot of quickness and dart and speed and strength. They’re doing a fine job.”
Michigan will have one fewer nonconference game to schedule beginning next season because the Big Ten is mandating that each school play nine league opponents. Also, the Big Ten is not allowing teams to play Football Championship Subdivision schools, and each conference team must play at least one opponent from a power conference.
So the Wolverines have a little less room in which to work, though the importance of playing UNLV-caliber teams remains.
Their next two schedules are set.
Michigan hosts Hawaii, Central Florida and Colorado in 2016, hardly a murderers’ row. In 2017, the Wolverines play Florida in Arlington, Texas, and host Cincinnati and Air Force, a more competitive slate but one that’s quite manageable.
Playing Florida at a neutral site is an exception to the types of games Michigan generally prefers.
The Wolverines could have their choice of such games because of Harbaugh, who is back at his alma mater after winning big at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers. But Michigan doesn’t want to give up a game at 107,601-seat Michigan Stadium for a matchup at a neutral site that might pay $5 million.
“If (another program) is getting $5 million for a neutral-site game, it’s worth it for them,” said Mark Snyder, Michigan’s beat writer for the Detroit Free Press. “For Michigan, it’s a loser to go on the road and take less money. So that’s the driving thing in all their scheduling philosophy.”
Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett told mlive.com, a consortium of Michigan newspapers, that he considered playing in a 160,000-seat stadium but rejected the offer. Hackett, who was traveling this week and unavailable to speak to the Review-Journal, did not name the site.
“We have the biggest stadium in the world,” Hackett told mlive.com. “We have season-ticket holders that say, ‘Why would you move a game away from us?'”
So the Wolverines don’t leave their building often. They play at least seven home games each season.
One thorny issue is the now-defunct series against Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish ended the series after the 2014 game, citing the demands of playing five Atlantic Coast Conference games because of their new association with that league. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said last week on the “Rich Eisen Show” that he believed the schools would meet again.
“I would have a conversation with coach Kelly about it,” Harbaugh said. “But I would be open to it, yes.”
Contact Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65
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