Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, July 15, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- UNLV President Neal Smatresk talks about the importance of sports for the university
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The prospects of an on-campus, domed football stadium at UNLV have created a buzz throughout the community since plans were announced about 18 months ago.
Last month, when the Nevada Board of Regents gave its approval to move forward with the UNLV Now project — 150 acres of mixed-use development anchored by a 50,000-seat indoor stadium — that buzz grew louder. What once was a long shot seemed like more of a reality.
Sure, there are still several roadblocks — namely financing for an estimated $2 billion plan ($500 million to $750 million alone for the stadium) — standing in the way of playing home football games on campus. But loyal Rebels fans who have long dreamed of a stadium are sensing light at the end of the tunnel.
UNLV officials share the excitement. They know a football stadium would produce massive returns for the Rebels on the recruiting trail and in how the mid-major conference school is viewed on a national scale.
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“It sends a huge message across the country to people and our fan base that UNLV is very serious about having success,” said Jim Livengood, UNLV’s athletic director. “It will change the perceptions about UNLV.”
UNLV football averaged 21,199 fans over five home games last fall, seventh in the eight-team Mountain West Conference. Fans — especially students — have long stayed home rather than traveling to the eastern part of the valley for the Rebels’ home games.
Where other universities have a distinct home field advantage because of a vocal student fan base, UNLV’s students aren’t fixtures on football game day, partially because they’re not willing to drive to Sam Boyd Stadium, nine miles from campus.
For some games, especially late in the season when the Rebels are typically out of contention for a bowl berth, only a few dozen students are in the stands.
Livengood, who has worked at Arizona and Washington State, envisions a college football Saturday on the UNLV campus. From tailgating to alumni events to performances by the band and the ability to start new traditions, a stadium could be a game-changer for the future of the campus.
“It changes the city for the day,” Livengood said. “Game day is what college football is all about. The stadium would create that environment. It opens your campus for the day.”
Unlike Rebel coaches before him, Bobby Hauck has never cited Sam Boyd as an excuse for the program’s struggles — he’s had consecutive two-win seasons. Hauck speaks highly of the facility to recruits and has called Sam Boyd a fun place to watch a game.
So imagine if he had an on-campus stadium at his disposal during his recruiting pitch. UNLV would be in position to compete against a high-caliber school on the recruiting trail, go after top-tier prospects and, perhaps, have options to play in a power conference such as the Pac-12.
“A new stadium on this campus not only dramatically changes the football program, but also transforms the entire university,” Hauck said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to see UNLV become one of the premier campuses in the United States, and that’s what UNLV Now does for this school and this community.”
Community members frequently ask Livengood and other UNLV officials for updates on the proposal. Fans aren’t the only ones waiting for good news.
“Everybody, myself included, wants to know when that shovel can go in the ground,” he said.