Las Vegas' bids for getting NCAA championship events hit snag
Sports in Las Vegas is booming, but the NCAA hasn't changed its stance on sports gambling
A possible landmark change in the NCAA’s stance against placing championship events in Nevada now seems to be on hold.
Next month, the NCAA Board of Governors will consider a formal proposal from UNLV and the Mountain West to stage three NCAA championship events in Las Vegas from 2019-22.
Separate from those is a proposal to play the entire women’s Sweet 16 down to the Final Four in Vegas. That would have to be approved by different NCAA entities.
However, multiple sources have told CBS Sports the chance of those bids being approved have decreased of late. That’s because the NCAA continues to be a plaintiff fighting a New Jersey law passed in 2014 allowing sports gambling within the state.
So far, New Jersey has failed on every front to implement the law. In addition to the NCAA, plaintiffs fighting the law include the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, as well as the Department of Justice.
The U.S. Supreme Court is in the process of deciding whether it will hear New Jersey’s appeal in the case. West Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin have also filed briefs with the court in support of New Jersey.
In short, it’s a case of bad optics for the NCAA at this time. Sources say the association would be hesitant to approve championship events in Nevada while it fights sports gambling in New Jersey.
The NCAA’s long-time policy has been to withhold championships from states that allow sports wagering. But the week started with the Oakland Raiders announcing a move to Las Vegas. The new T-Mobile Arena in the city will be the home of the expansion Golden Knights of the NHL next fall.
Multiple conferences play their postseason conference basketball tournaments in the city. This past season, North Carolina and Kentucky met in T-Mobile for a neutral-site game.
College types thought the momentum for NCAA events in Nevada -- specifically Vegas -- was inevitable.
“This is rhetorical,” said Jim Livengood, who retired as UNLV’s athletic director in 2013 and is now a consultant for Las Vegas Events, an event management company which has worked on the bid, “but wouldn’t you think that if there was an issue with NFL, it wouldn’t come to Nevada?”
The detailed bid for multiple championship events in the state of Nevada is believed to be the first of its kind to be considered by the NCAA.
“We’re held to a different standard,” said UNLV AD Tina Kunzer-Murphy, who has long fought for NCAA events. “We have the highest [gambling] regulatory standard in the country. With hockey coming in and the glorious Raiders, there is absolutely no excuse for this coming in.”
A successful bid would essentially open up the NCAA to Las Vegas after years of the association avoiding the gambling Mecca. The proposals include Las Vegas hosting a men’s basketball regional in T-Mobile Arena as well as wrestling and men’s ice hockey national championships.
If the board does not approve the bids, Nevada would be shut out until at least the next bid cycle beginning in 2023.
“We’re going to miss that four-year window,” Livengood said. “The tragic thing about that is it’s not about Vegas, but the experience the student-athletes and teams could have.”
It has been only lately the NCAA seemingly shifted its stance regarding staging championship events in Nevada, which legalized sports gambling in 1949.
In December 2015, NCAA president Mark Emmert noted “what often seems to be a hypocritical stance,” by the association regarding Las Vegas. At that time, he predicted there would be “robust conversation” among the NCAA membership regarding Nevada.
Social mores have changed. Four Division I conferences stage their postseason college basketball tournaments in Las Vegas (Pac-12, WAC, West Coast and Mountain West). Those events aren’t governed by the NCAA.
“[Our fans] probably wouldn’t travel there if it wasn’t in Vegas,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team plays annually in the West Coast Conference tournament. “It will be exciting to have an NFL team down there. I’m sure Las Vegas has been waiting for that.”
As for the worry about Sin City’s vices, Few said, “Gambling is everywhere. [Why worry about Vegas] when it’s in our own front yard and back yard?”
The NCAA board will consider the latest Nevada proposal on April 25. That is after the NCAA Council meets April 12-14 when it would submit a recommendation.
“I think it was tracking well,” one high-ranking NCAA official said of Nevada. “I think we’ve had these test pilots being out there a bunch, conference championships that have handled it well.
“It seems like a logical place when you look at that region of the country. It’s accessible. There are easy flights.”
Western cities haven’t been applying to host NCAA men’s tournament sites because of the dearth of venues in that region. From 2008-16 the West Regional rotated between Anaheim (Honda Center), Los Angeles (Staples Center) and the Phoenix area in every year but one (2010, Salt Lake).
This month, the West Regional was played in San Jose, California. Until this week in Glendale, Arizona, a true Western city hasn’t played host to the Final Four since 1995 (Seattle).
Nevada is one of four states nationwide to allow sports wagering. In a strange one-off, the NCAA did allow the women’s basketball West Regional to be played in Las Vegas in 1991.
It is believed there has been no revenue-sport championship event played in the state since then.
“There will sometime be NCAA championship events held in Nevada,” Livengood said. “That’s going to happen. It’s not an if, it’s a when.”
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