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UNLV athletic department tests loyal football fans with priority seating fees

Legend has it Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once a UNLV Rebels football season-ticket holder. But she had to drop out.

Turns out even she lost her faith in the program.

It can be argued it has taken the patience of a saint to remain loyal to such a perennially poor outfit. But, believe it or not, the team has its fans. Not only have UNLV’s football season-ticket-holding loyalists stood by their hapless home team through one losing season after the next, but they actually paid for the privilege of doing so. Amazing, don’t you think?

Talk about awful. Those season tickets should come with air-sickness bags. UNLV has won two games in eight of the past 11 seasons. Its past seven coaches have survived an average of five years with 19 wins each. Since 1986, only three teams at their level have lost more games than the Rebels.

Former UNLV coaches don’t go to the big time. They go to therapy.

With precious few exceptions, in most seasons a good argument could be made for the head coach paying the fans to watch. Of course, in most seasons average fans can’t bear to look at the endless parade of fumbled punts and interceptions.

UNLV football fans are known to have stronger stomachs than those carnival sideshow freaks who eat light bulbs and roofing nails. Now they’re hoping that the decision to hire highly successful Bishop Gorman High coach Tony Sanchez to lead the Rebels will be the start of a winning era for the school.

But just when some Rebels rooters are beginning to think they’ve begun to put those losing years behind them, the UNLV Athletics Department has to go and test their loyalty one more time by announcing that season-ticket holders possessing the best seats at midfield will have to begin paying a premium for the privilege of watching the new Rebels in action.

Sanchez hasn’t won a game yet, and fans near the 50-yard line will have to pay more.

A recent email from the athletics department that went out to ticket holders reads in part, “The decision to reintroduce a Priority Donation for a limited number of sections at Sam Boyd Stadium, beginning in 2015, has been made after careful consideration of how best to support our football program going forward. A modest donation will be assigned for Priority Seating in three sections only — Sections 127, 128 and 129.

“The Priority Seating Donation will be one of the lowest of any school in the Mountain West Conference. It is also important to note that Football Priority will now be completely separate from men’s basketball and is required on all paid tickets in these three priority sections.”

It’s just a thought, but could it be that UNLV dropped its “priority seating” policy at the stadium because so few fans considered game attendance an actual priority?

The per-seat priority rate ranges from $50-$75. Folks with four season tickets in the section could be on the hook for an additional $300 this season.

UNLV super fan Rick McGough has had six football season tickets for many years. By his count, he’ll be compelled to dole out an additional $450 to maintain his seats. Color him less than enthused, and he says he’s been hearing dissatisfaction from other Rebels fans.

“It’s nothing short of increasing costs for a product that’s decreasing in value,” McGough says. “They’re amazing to me.”

He’s just one of several longtime ticket holders irritated by the sudden uptick that has preceded the first game of the Sanchez era. Rebels fans who’ve endured years of lopsided, soul-crushing losses can’t be blamed for feeling more than a little insulted by the new policy. As if watching your team get slaughtered like lambs every Saturday weren’t bad enough.

The athletics department missive concludes, “We greatly appreciate your continued support of UNLV Football, and we are excited about the future direction of our program under Coach Sanchez.”

They sure have a funny way of showing their appreciation for those loyal and long-suffering fans.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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