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FSM Feature: Should Conference Realignment Be Next For UNLV

Franchise Sports Media

 

Conference realignment has changed college football. The future of the Pac-2 (Washington State and Oregon State), UNLV, and the Mountain West Conference is uncertain. We might see a significant conference realignment in the West, but it’s unclear exactly how it will play out and UNLV’s role in it all.

 

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Conference realignment has the college football world flipped and turned upside down. What we have known for decades is now just a faint memory, whether we like it or not. What we have known college football to be is now over, thanks to conference realignment, the transfer portal, and NIL.

That isn’t the only thing that could shock the college football world, as new potential powers could emerge. But where will those teams come from, and if they aren’t in a Power-4 conference, will they try to take advantage of the ever-changing college football landscape if given the opportunity?

For the first time, coming into the 2024 college football season, UNLV football is one of the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference. They are also a dark horse to make the 12-team college football playoff. Rebels head football coach Barry Odom, and his staff have done a masterful job turning the UNLV football program around quickly. Can their success lead the university to a Power-4 conference?

 

But with the college football landscape changed and with the Pac-12 now down to just two teams, what does the future hold for West Coast football, the remaining teams in the now Pac-2, and the teams in the Mountain West Conference?

 

UNLV Rebels vs San Jose State Spartans | Franchise Sports Media
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Oregon State and Washington State made a scheduling deal with the Mountain West for the next two seasons. There’s a possibility of a Mountain West/Pac-2 merger eventually. The Mountain West announced that Mountain West teams will schedule seven games against league opponents, with another being against either the Cougars or Beavers this season.

Neither Washington State nor Oregon State will be eligible for the Mountain West Championship.

According to Yahoo Sports, the two schools would pay the Mountain West $14 million for this arrangement. Mountain West commissioner Gloria Nevarez has proposed that Oregon State and Washington State join the Mountain West. Still, as of this article, those negotiations are ongoing, and no announcement is imminent.

Any move or merger would happen after the 2025-26 season since the Mountain West signed a $270 million media rights deal in 2020 with CBS and FOX. Mountain West teams are being paid $4 million annually from the media rights deal.

However, per the Mountain West Conference bylaws, any team can pay a fee of $18 million if they give notice of leaving the conference by July 1st. But if a team were to give notice after the July 1st deadline, that fee would double to $35 million.

A Mountain West title and a spot in the NCAA’s expanded playoff could trigger a conference tug-of-war for UNLV. The Big 12, who could be eyeing westward expansion, may see UNLV’s meteoric rise under Barry Odom as the perfect fit. For the Rebels, the allure of a Power Four conference would be welcome.

The question would then be, would UNLV remain loyal to the Mountain West (and Pac-2) or take a gamble that they could be successful on a bigger stage? That decision would redefine UNLV’s future, and the dominoes could start falling fast.

 

Scenario 1: Join the Big 12 Conference

 

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We will be the deepest conference in America, and every game will matter,Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark told reporters at the Big 12 Media Day, ironically being held in Las Vegas. “We are more relevant now than ever before.

This is no time to press pause,” Yormark continued. “I wake up every morning thinking one thing: Big 12 being the best version of itself.

Yormark concluded, “(Big 12 is) a mature start-up. Our brand can be younger and more aggressive compared to our peers. We are taking an innovative approach & exploring new TV windows.

Yormark is a visionary. He has plans to do separate media deals for football and basketball. Yormark said the league is deeply exploring “bifurcating” football and basketball, selling each separately as packages to a media network(s). That would be game-changing for schools with a rich basketball tradition compared to football.

Yormark also said he had pushed the NCAA to permit conferences to have commercial patches on the uniforms of game officials/referees like the NBA. Creating non-traditional ways for universities and conferences to make money outside of media deals and donations is huge for schools like UNLV.

Being in Vegas is important to us… it’s critically important to our brand. We want to bring some of our tentpole events west,Yormark said.

UNLV checks A LOT of the boxes the Big 12 is looking for. With the recent success of the football and women’s basketball programs, and with the men’s basketball program trending upward, UNLV Director of Athletics Erick Harper and school President Dr. Keith Whifield could be in a position to advance the school further than it has ever been.

The Big 12 makes the most sense for UNLV both on the field and financially.

With Yormark’s innovative mind and ability to create non-traditional ways for the conference to make money, it would be perfect in Las Vegas. That influx of cash from the Big 12 media deal and non-traditional revenue would help UNLV as a whole, mainly by being able to pay the coaches who have turned their programs around or hire a coach to do so.

 

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In all fairness, UNLV, on their end, has work to do as well. The school has to get their NIL collective situation in order. There is no reason they haven’t already, and with Las Vegas’s resources, they should be at the forefront.

Yes, the university is relatively new (established in 1957), so the alumni aren’t as established as other prominent schools. Nonetheless, there aren’t too many other cities with nearly a billion dollars on every corner (on the strip). One way is to use the resources that they have already created. Considering the world-renowned hospitality program, the school needs to start creating and establishing relationships with the various decision-makers of properties that could be game-changing.

The day of sitting on their hands and relying on a couple of families to fund the athletic department isn’t the way to operate, and quite frankly, it isn’t fair to those donors. UNLV needs to be innovative and not reactionary. They need to think out of the box, like Yormark, and come up with creative ways to create a deep NIL fund and the finances they could use to reward, hire, and extend the type of coaches that lead winning programs.

The Big 12’s new media deal, starting in the 2025-26 academic year, is worth an estimated $2.6 billion over its duration with ESPN and Fox. This translates to an annual average distribution of $380 million for the conference, compared to the previous $220 million and an average of $31.7 million per school annually.

The per-school distribution might differ slightly depending on individual team contracts or revenue-sharing agreements within the conference, but that would be a game-changer for UNLV.

In any world or alternate universe, there is no way that any media deal with a revamped Pac-2 or a merger of Oregon State and Washington State would generate the amount of money that UNLV could get if they joined the Big 12. Getting into the Big 12 conference should be the top priority for UNLV and its leadership if they genuinely want to change the university’s trajectory.

This scenario could happen simply: the football and basketball programs must win. Mediocrity will not get you into the Big 12, nor will just being in Las Vegas. The big boy conferences do not want schools that are taking up space. They want an ultra-competitive conference that can win championships across the board through various programs.

 

Scenario 2: Join/Merge with the Pac-2 and ACC

 

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This scenario is the easiest to discuss because it has been discussed for over a year. There are multiple ways for this potential merger to happen.

First, all 12 schools vote to dissolve the Mountain West and join Washington State and Oregon State in rebuilding the Pac-12.

The next is at least nine, but not all 12 schools vote to dissolve the Mountain West – a super-majority vote is required – and they join the Pac-12, leaving a few behind. Finally, four in eight schools give notice that they are leaving the Mountain West in the summer of 2026 to join the Pac-12, a scenario that leads to departure fees for the outbound schools and a poaching penalty for the Pac-12.

The schools in jeopardy of getting left behind would be some combination of Hawaii, Utah State, Reno, Wyoming, and San Jose State, depending on the number of spots available.

Washington State and Oregon State could be hoping for another round of realignment, which will create a path into the ACC or Big 12 or some larger combination of those two conferences.

Many wonder if the Pac-12 name and intellectual property are more valuable than the Mountain West name and intellectual property.

We’ve been very much focused over the last couple of months on finding homes for all of our sports. That has been the short-term priority to make sure that all of the programs on both campuses have a viable home for next year to compete and have access to the postseason and to deliver a great student-athlete experience. Certainly, our conversations with the Mountain West were part of that,” Pac-12 commissioner Teresa Gould said when asked about a potential Pac-12/Mountain West merger.

And the football agreement was critical in advancing those goals for us. We haven’t yet begun those conversations with the Mountain West, and I would say in terms of the future, our obligation to our programs and our student-athletes is to stay open-minded to all options. We really do feel that there’re going to be a lot of different options on the table that we need to consider and pursue.

 

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For UNLV, while this would make them one of the premier teams in the revamped conference, financially, it wouldn’t make sense if the Big 12 was an option.

Let’s look at the benefits.

Joining a larger conference, especially one incorporating elements of the Pac-12, would bring UNLV an increase in TV revenue and national exposure, but how much more? While this translates to more money for athletics, potentially leading to better facilities, coaching salaries, and recruiting power, that all would depend on how much a new Pac-12 media rights deal would be.

A merger with the Pac-12 Conference could offer a more competitive environment for UNLV athletics. Facing stronger opponents could elevate their game and potentially lead to more national recognition and bowl appearances. But that would depend on who would be in the new Pac-12. Would all the Mountain West teams come, or would Oregon State and Washington State want to add teams in the Sun Belt Conference or schools playing as Independents?

Depending on the conference’s structure, travel costs might be reduced compared to a geographically dispersed conference like the current Mountain West. Being in a conference with schools closer geographically could be a financial and logistical advantage. Again, that would also depend on who would join the revamped conference.

Given the current landscape and recent success of UNLV athletics, they might have more influence on conference decisions or scheduling compared to their current standing in the Mountain West.

Would it be financially responsible to go to a conference that is essentially made up of most of the Mountain West plus Oregon State, Washington State, and potentially a few other yet-to-be-identified schools?

On the field, UNLV might be able to thrive. It might be an easier way to get into the college football playoff, being one of the “at-large” teams that are given a bid. It has been speculated that the Pac-12 would want to bring in Gonzaga for basketball only, which would help the conference and UNLV.

But could that gamble be worth it for UNLV?

 

UNLV vs Hawai'i | Franchise Sports Media
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It might be if the ACC implodes and another super conference can be put together with schools from the ACC, Washington State, Oregon State, and select schools from the Mountain West. With Florida State and Clemson both filing lawsuits challenging the conference’s grant of rights and media deal, suggesting a desire to explore other options, the future of the ACC is up in the air.

It would be a lot like the Big Ten, where that type of conference would have games played all Saturday, from coast to coast.

One issue that will arise is schools in the new look ACC, like Stanford, Duke, and Wake Forest, who feel the academic standards of the Mountain West schools, Oregon State and Washington State, won’t fit their preferred standards.

Also, would North Carolina, Miami, North Carolina State, Virginia, and Virginia Tech stay in a new-look ACC? If they did and added UNLV, Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State, Oregon State, and Washington State, that could look like a very nice conference for both football and basketball.

The ACC has a media rights deal with ESPN that runs through the 2036 season. It is reported that the current deal pays the schools around $40 million per school per year. This is significantly less than what schools in the Big Ten and SEC are currently making.

However, ESPN is not guaranteed to pay ACC members revenue past 2027, but they can continue the deal.

This TV deal has been a point of contention for some ACC schools, who feel they are not getting a fair share of the television revenue. This has led to speculation about the schools above potentially leaving the ACC for another conference.

Current schools in the ACC are locked into a grant of rights that runs through 2036. This means that ESPN has the exclusive right to televise their games.

 

Regardless, it is time for UNLV to be proactive and innovative and strike while the iron is hot!

 

UNLV vs San Jose State | Franchise Sports Media
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There is no better time for UNLV to be aggressive in finding a better situation than now. UNLV has an opportunity to change with the college landscape, not get left behind.

The Rebels football team is heading into the 2024 season as one of the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference and, barring something significant happening, should go to a Bowl game for the second consecutive year. They are in a Top-40 media market, in the Sports and Entertainment capital of the world.

It’s time UNLV starts to think like the major market it has become, not the small town it once was. UNLV has to take advantage of the resources in and around Las Vegas. Be decisive and prepared for any and all options in front of them. When deals get done in Vegas, it’s primarily due to building strong relationships, fostering open communication, and having a keen eye on the future.

It’s time for UNLV to remember and respect the past but turn its sights to the future and see the BIG(12) picture.

 

Make sure you keep coming back to FSM for all your UNLV Football & Basketball coverage. Thanks for visiting FranchiseSportsMedia.com for your Las Vegas Sports news today.

 

Franchise Sports Media. Las Vegas sports news about Las Vegas Sports teams.

– Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

Follow Joe on all social media: @joearrigofsm

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