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Would moving UNLV-UNR game to Nevada Day boost fan interest?

When UNLV visited Reno a year ago, the vibe was different. Yes, there was vitriol directed at the Rebels, just not as much as usual.

An announced crowd of 17,359 showed up, leaving swaths of open seats in 27,000-seat Mackay Stadium, the lowest-attended meeting between the state rivals since 1989.

Some of it had to do with a UNR team entering the game with a 2-9 record, but the calendar also played a part. The game took place on Thanksgiving weekend, meaning many fans had traveled to celebrate the holiday with family and friends and weren’t around.

Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. meeting at Sam Boyd Stadium will be the third in a row during Thanksgiving week, so another sub-par crowd is expected. An announced crowd of 23,569 attended the one two years ago at Sam Boyd.

The largest crowd in recent years was in 2015 when 29,551 turned out in Reno — the last time the game wasn’t played on Thanksgiving weekend.

Maybe the series can crack 30,000 fans if it is moved to Nevada Day or that weekend. The joy of a state birthday celebration combined with rivals playing for the Fremont Cannon might add some spark.

“I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “It’s fun having the rivalry game on the last week of the season. The only downside to it is school’s not in. I remember last year we went up there and played them there, and it wasn’t a packed house.

“The same is true for us. We’ve got a big student population here, but not everybody’s from Vegas. That’s why you’ve seen a lot of teams move off that rivalry weekend or kind of move it around a little bit just so the whole student body is there when you have that (game). I’m for whatever packs the house and creates an even more raucous atmosphere.”

Most rival games (Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State) are played this week, but others (Southern California-UCLA, Stanford-California) were scheduled for last weekend. The Stanford-Cal game was moved to Dec. 1 because of the California wildfires.

Moving the UNLV-UNR game on a permanent basis might have Sanchez’s backing, but whether it gains traction beyond him is questionable.

The Mountain West will try to accompany schools when they request a particular date, as UNLV and UNR did in asking to play the season finale against each other on Thanksgiving weekend. But if only one school is interested in a particular spot on the calendar, the conference is less likely to be accommodating.

And UNR doesn’t appear interested in switching dates.

“Our preference, along with UNLV’s, is for this the Battle for the Fremont Cannon to be the last game of the regular season, like many college football rivalries around the country,” UNR spokesman Chad Hartley said in an email.

When told UNLV might be open to moving the game, Hartley said the Wolf Pack stood by their original statement.

So there seems to be some disagreement, at least between Sanchez and UNR.

But what does UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois think?

“We will query our fans and are certainly open to discussing with UNR and our conference,” she said.

Stay tuned.

More Rebels: Follow all of our UNLV coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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