Where will UNLV End Up After Latest Round of Expansion?

Source: Review Journal

Texas and Oklahoma rocked the collegiate sports world recently by announcing that they would be leaving the B12 for the SEC. Details still need to be ironed out as to when those two apex football schools will be allowed to officially join the likes of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia on the gridiron. Some have speculated that it could be as late as 2025, while others think it can be as soon as next season. Only one thing is certain right now; everyone is wondering what conference realignment will look like after this latest round of expansion. 

UNLV fans, in particular, are split on what they think will happen to the Rebels once all this proverbial dust has settled. After moving into Allegiant Stadium (With a huge helping hand from the Raiders), the Rebels have a $2 billion football palace that they call home. No other G5 school can say the same. UNLV also recently opened up The Fertitta Football Complex, a $34 million endeavor by the school and its boosters. Very few G5 schools are able to boast the same. When it comes to facilities, UNLV did its due diligence to be considered when the Pac 12 and B12 are looking for new members. 

What else does UNLV have going for it? For one, the media market is viable when considering expansion guidelines. The Las Vegas market comes in at 39th nationally in the latest Nielsen DMA rankings. Only fellow MWC member, San Diego State, is in a better situation, registering at 29th. The next closest is the Albuquerque area at 46th, Colorado Springs at 85th, and Boise, which isn’t even in the top 100. Available TV sets will be a huge factor when the powers that be start looking for new schools. 

But what more will the P5 require? The Pac 12 looks at academics very stringently from their fellow institutions. Since UNLV will most likely covet a Pac invite the most, they can rest easy in regard to their academic standings. As of 2018, UNLV reached R1 (The top) status by the Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education. There are only 130 other schools in the entire country that share this accolade with the Rebels. 

When it comes down to it, UNLV checks a lot of boxes. The number one box they do not check is in the win column. UNLV basketball and UNLV football are supposed to be the flagship programs of the university, but they’ve been down and out lately, to put it politely. Ever since Dave Rice was fired back in January of 2016, the Runnin’ Rebels are flirting with a .500 record on the hardwood. As for UNLV football, it’s easier to say that their last winning season was the better part of a decade ago. And the last winning season before that was when John Robinson was the head coach at the turn of the century. 

That being said, the last round of expansion was not about wins and losses. At all. Rutgers was not brought into the B10 based off of their illustrious football history. They were initiated because of the potential TV revenue that their media market could provide. The same can be said for Maryland in the same exact set of circumstances. Colorado going to the Pac 12 is another prime example of this. If UNLV is considered, it will be because of the money the city it resides in can generate for those greedy P5 power players. Nothing more, nothing less. And Las Vegas can generate lots and lots of money. 

For now, no one really knows how it will all pan out. To me, however, this spells the end of the NCAA. They might still technically be alive, but they’re in hospice breathing their last breaths. The NIL was nothing more than them trying to buy a couple more days on this Earth. Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the SEC will bring about something new and unprecedented, in my opinion. 

When I look at a “megaconference” comprised of Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Auburn, etc., the first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘Why stop there?’ And they won’t, mark my words. Schools like Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame are going to want in on the cash grab too. Not only that, but they’re going to want to do so without any kind of nonsequential governing body like the NCAA breathing down their necks. 

All of those schools are going to come together, and they will form a league that isn’t dissimilar to the NFL. There will be something like 32 teams, with 8 teams in geographical oriented divisions. They will only play each other, and they will all govern themselves. More than that, they will pay players an outlandish sum to come play in this new megaconference, since there won’t be anyone left to police them otherwise. 

If that’s the case, who gets left out in the cold? The answer is there will be many schools (Even powerful ones) that will be on the outside looking in. Even amongst the P5 there are the dregs that reside at the bottom of the conference barrel. Washington State, Oregon State, Texas Christian, and Boston College all come immediately to mind. They might be in a Power 5 conference, but they’re only considered P5 by association. 

And what of schools like Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas? They’re the elite of elite when it comes to college basketball, but in a time of expansion that is derived solely around the College Football Playoff, and college football earnings, where do those schools end up? College basketball is very much an afterthought in these talks. 

That’s why I see a lot of schools looking internally at themselves when this all transpires and asking, ‘Where does our revenue come from? Where’s our niche? How do we get the biggest piece of this pie?’ The answer to that is going to be an every man for themselves type of response. 

At a certain point, after the megaconference has established itself, it’s going to be a best of the rest scenario. Looking at the west coast specifically, USC and UCLA will be included in the megaconference. Washington and Oregon will as well. But after that, who knows? There’s no one else in my mind that is a definitive lock. 

That’s how UNLV benefits. At least in football. San Diego State, Boise State, and Colorado State as well. They’re the only schools that check the aforementioned boxes I spoke about. When schools like Arizona and Arizona State have to look for other playmates in a now empty playground, all of a sudden, the bad batch MWC kids look a little more attractive than they once did. 

There are other scenarios I can see as well. The Group of 5 can band together. Schools like Houston, Memphis, Central Florida, Cincinnati, SMU, and others could form a league with MWC, and C-USA mainstays, but I find that to be something that is far-fetched. I think it far likelier that they all get poached by the leftover P5 teams who will be looking for life rafts to cling to. 

Something no one is talking about really yet is what I truly think will happen. Schools that are dependent on one program above others like I stated before with Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas will need to look out for number one. And that means most likely putting their basketball programs in leagues that have nothing to do with football. Because let’s face it, no matter how good Kansas is at basketball, no one is going to care during this round of expansion. That means a Blueblood, a pillar of the collegiate sports universe will be callously cast aside. 

Like the megaconference for football, these basketball-centric institutions will be looking for the biggest payday possible. They won’t find it in a football league, but they can find it together just like their pigskin tossing cohorts will. They can (And will, in my opinion) ditch the NCAA, form a similar megaconference league with schools like Duke, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Arizona, and the Big East at their core. Then they can go about governing themselves and paying players to their hearts desire. 

Imagine a world where Duke didn’t have to pretend they weren’t paying Zion Williamson handsomely. A world where Zion was paid a ridiculous sum from his endorsement deal, and the rest of the top college basketball players were paid accordingly and similarly. This is the college basketball utopia that these programs have wished for all along. They could now operate unabashedly and without shame. Just the way college football is about to. 

And this is where I see UNLV ending up ultimately. Basketball and football will go their separate ways. UNLV football will end up in some weird league with the likes of Kansas State, BYU, Arizona, Arizona State, San Diego State, Boise State, and a few other P5 discards that didn’t get invited to the megaconference. Ones that geographically make sense. As I said before, the best of the rest scenario. 

College basketball, on the other hand, will be doing its own thing if they’re smart. The Runnin’ Rebels ought to find their way into a league that 100% puts basketball first. The Zags, Arizona, San Diego State, and others should join a basketball megaconference spearheaded by Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, and all the rest, who will be happy to let football do its own thing while they reap the same kind of benefits away from all the CFP and college football mania. 

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