Speaking as someone who had a much beloved professional sports franchise torn away from them, I’m never ecstatic to see teams leave their homes. When the NFL announced their owners had approved the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas today, I felt a twinge of sadness for the fans who will not only go through losing a team but had to endure a stadium that literally suffers sewage backups.
But what the NFL took away from Oakland, it gave to ... Larry Scott. Really!
Sure, the owners voted for their bottom lines and continuing the pilfering of public funds to assist in building stadia most of them could easily afford (a topic for another day) but the Pac-12 Conference was, quietly, a very big winner in the Raiders’ future move to The Meadows.
Why? Let me explain.
The Pac-12 Championship Game can move to Vegas
The conference started playing their annual title game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in 2014. After expansion to 12 teams and prior to the move, the championship game was hosted at campus sites, which created for good atmospheres even if they were completely one sided.
Moving it to a neutral site made sense from that stand point. The problem, though, is the change to Santa Clara has been nothing short of disastrous.
Between the sparse crowds, the crappy turf conditions that make my backyard look like Augusta, and the general lack of national attention, things haven’t gone well for the conference’s marquee game of the year.
A move to Vegas, though, could change that. It’s just as easy (if not more so) to get to Vegas from anywhere in the Pac-12. Fans thinking about traveling might be more inclined to drop some coin on a short-notice trip to Sin City than they would to Silicon Valley. A brand new, $1.9 billion stadium that (hopefully) isn’t an ugly cavern with turf surrounded by some of the worst traffic in the United States would be a big upgrade as well. Add in that you already have your postseason basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on the Strip and it makes a lot of sense to move.
The Las Vegas Bowl might jump into a more desirable tier
The Raiders won’t be the only team playing in the yet-to-be-named stadium. The UNLV Rebels will be sharing the space with them, finally ditching the horseshoe shaped metal bleacher-fest known as Sam Boyd Stadium.
This also means, presumably, the Las Vegas Bowl will be moving to the new stadium and along with the added luxury suites, premium seating and near double capacity comes the opportunity for the Las Vegas Bowl to get a whole lot better.
The Pac-12’s bowl tie-ins are ... well, they aren’t good. The conference has tie-ins to precisely one game that is played post-New Years and even though it is the best bowl game there is, it can’t offset how bad most of the rest are. For instance, the Holiday Bowl is considered the Pac-12’s No. 3 bowl and in 2016, the Big Ten sent ... Minnesota, a team that finished fifth in their division. Yeesh.
The move to a new stadium, though, could help the Las Vegas Bowl jump up the bowl pecking order. If the Pac-12 can manage to stay tied-in (and there’s really no reason they shouldn’t), the committee that runs the game could aim for the stars with something like this:
Wouldn't mind seeing— Brian Anderson (@b17anderson) March 27, 2017
1. Rose (B1G 1)
2. Vegas (SEC 2/3)
3. Holiday-LA (Big12 2/3)
4. Alamo (ACC 3/4)
6. Sun (Big12 5/6)
What happens to the Holiday Bowl the Chargers’ departure for Los Angeles is yet to be seen but the Las Vegas Bowl should pick up substantial credibility once they move into the new digs at the end of the decade.
UNLV might be a more attractive expansion option
Look, I’m not one to begrudge small stadiums that have trouble getting full (something about stones and houses made of glass), but if any of you traveled to Las Vegas for the Cougs’ 2012 visit, you know what trouble UNLV fans have filling the place.
In theory, the move into the new stadium can help line the athletic department’s pockets at UNLV if they can secure corporate donors and bring in fans who might be more inclined to grab a few Rebels’ shirts off the clearance rack if football interest goes up in Vegas. Add in the TV market size (40th), location within your geographic footprint, and an already increased postseason presence in Las Vegas, this might make sense for the Pac-12.
That comes, of course, with caveats. First, and perhaps the biggest, UNLV probably doesn’t fit the academic profile the university presidents are looking for. Their endowment is just a shade over $200 million, 150 percent less than the smallest in the Pac-12 (Oregon State).
Second, UNLV has trouble enough competing in the Mountain West football-wise, having won just two games in a season seven times so far this century so their ability to compete in the Pac-12 (stones and glass again) is questionable at best. Third, when the Pac-12 does expand, they’ll want to do it in pairs and there are serious stumbling blocks to finding one other team that would fit the bill and other conference members wouldn’t object to.
Even if expansion with UNLV never happens, the Pac-12 got a big gift today when the NFL approved the Raiders’ move. The ability to move the title game to Vegas and the possibility of one of their bowl tie-ins becoming substantially more appealing makes it a good day in Walnut Creek.