Thursday, May 9, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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Speculation behind the reasons for UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood’s sudden departure won’t likely die down soon. The official line is he’s retiring, though many suspect there may have been a push out that door.
Whatever the exact reason, Livengood will give up his post effective June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, and someone new will take his place.
“It’s a good time to let someone else take the reins,” Livengood said.
Not necessarily if you’re that next person.
Despite increasing fundraising nearly threefold in the past three years, Livengood is still trying to keep the UNLV's head above water with maneuvers like moving the Sept. 7 home game against Arizona to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Saying the money involved is “way north” of the $750,000 the Rebels received to travel to West Virginia in 2010, the potential deal could be Livengood’s parting gift after three and a half years of service.
Most fans, at least based on our reader poll and conversations throughout the year, think Livengood was doing at least a good if not a great job running the department. His replacement, whom UNLV President Neal Smatresk said he would like to have in place by the end of Livengood’s tenure, will have a daunting task in front of him or her.
“A lot of really tough decisions have to be made,” Livengood said. “Those tough decisions, in this world, never allow someone to feel really good about who you are, what you are, what you’re doing. It’s just the way the world works.”
Here are some of the top priorities when they get the job:
How would you rate Jim Livengood's legacy at UNLV?
- How would you rate Jim Livengood’s legacy as the UNLV athletic director?
- Excellent — 36.9%
- Good — 33.6%
- Average — 14.9%
- Poor — 14.6%
This poll is closed, see Full Results »
Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
Whatever this project ends up looking like, it’s clearly at the top of the priority list.
“I think it’s more than crucial,” Livengood said. “I think it’s crucial from a fiscal standpoint but I think it’s also very crucial from a national perspective standpoint.”
Livengood also spoke about trying to get the National Association of College Directors of Athletics meetings in Las Vegas down the road so administrators can see the town, the potential facility and get over the stigma that keeps events like the Final Four many miles away from the bright lights of the Strip.
“Las Vegas should be having NCAA events,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Now, the task of seeing this through doesn’t fall on the athletic department alone. In fact, its role in the proceedings is speculated as one of the reasons for Livengood stepping away at this time.
When asked if Livengood’s departure would affect this or the Thomas & Mack Center projects, Smatresk didn’t mince words.
“I don’t see any impact on that at all,” he said. “Those are ongoing, they’re being managed by Don Snyder and Gerry Bomotti. The UNLV Now project is really us trying to do something with the city that would benefit the local economy.
“Athletics is clearly a beneficiary of that but it really isn’t being driven by it.”
That may be, but a sitting athletic director who gets a stadium built on campus, no matter how large a role he played in it, will go down as a hero. That’s seen as one of the largest hurdles to success for the football program.
The new AD would be wise to do everything within his or her power to make that happen.
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Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and UNLV beat writer discuss the possible reasons for Jim Livengood's sudden departure and what it means for the athletic department.
Budget issues are ever-present across campus, including the athletic department. The difference is, the Rebels have many more opportunities to create new revenue streams through sports than anywhere else.
The biggest, Livengood confirmed, is more success on the football field. The amount of money UNLV misses out on through poor gate receipts, advertising and poor exposure is huge.
Beyond that, there’s advertising dollars through the Mountain West digital network, which Livengood said is nearly ready.
“That’s going to be the new wave,” he said. “The money isn’t great in terms of our TV right now, but what CBS and ESPN are going to do and what the digital network is going to do in terms of exposure is going to be great. We need to monetize that in some way.”
TV revenue tied to college football was the driving force behind most of the conference realignment decisions in the past five years. Without a successful program that gets on TV a lot, UNLV is missing out on that.
Also, related to the “tough decisions” Livengood referred to, he said the university must go through a reseating for at least men’s basketball if not football, too. He did it for both sports while leading Washington State and Arizona, and it’s common practice across the country.
“It’s just painful,” Livengood said. “Nobody ever comes up and tells you, ‘Thanks for raising my ticket prices and thanks for moving me to a poorer seat.’ ”
Painful or not, UNLV could make a lot more money by opening up the seating and letting fans bid for them. If and when this happens, the university should also look at moving the media seating from behind the basket.
This is all in addition to continuing the success in fundraising, a Livengood specialty. He excelled at walking into a room and charming people into opening up their wallets. That’s a skill the replacement absolutely needs.
The football program’s lack of success is the glaring black eye on Livengood’s resume.
Never a place with much gridiron success, UNLV has taken a step back, at least by win-loss record, under Livengood’s hire, coach Bobby Hauck. Already on the hot seat this season, Hauck is now in serious jeopardy of not making it out of the regular season.
Athletic directors want to bring in their own people, especially when it comes to football coaches. And considering the recent track record, it probably won’t take much for the new person to make a change.
If that happens, there will be a lot of pressure on the hire. Fans are tired of exchanging one mediocre staff for another with nothing changing on the field.
Most people realize the problems are systemic, not due to recent personnel. A long-standing culture of losing, less-than-ideal facilities and a fan base that didn’t grow up with the team, and thus are quick to jump ship, are just some of the issues.
Still, a hire that yields even moderate gains and immediate impact would be hailed as a success.
Men's basketball program
Does Livengood think it’s fair for athletic directors to be judged essentially by wins and losses?
“I don’t know whether it’s fair or not, but it’s right,” Livengood said. “Athletic directors in this day and age are judged by their hiring process and the success of those hires.”
With football, that hasn’t been a good grade. However, elsewhere things are looking up with Livengood hires such as volleyball coach Cindy Frederick and women’s golf coach Amy Bush making positive strides.
No hire has been more discussed than men’s basketball coach Dave Rice. Though not without their flaws, Rice’s staff won 51 games over the past two years for roughly the same amount of money former coach Lon Kruger was making all by himself ($1.1 million).
That’s a good move, and the continued success of the basketball team is crucial for many reasons. That starts with fundraising.
The biggest UNLV boosters can be found in the lower seats at the Mack on game days. When the team’s winning, those people are happy. And when they’re happy, well, you get the picture.
Rice will likely handle selecting the new assistant coach with little interference, so the key for the new person here is likely to support without meddling. For now, anyway. Rice is still learning on the job and it’s fair to expect him to learn from the failings of his first two years. As long as he does and there’s progress (see: similar regular season success and an NCAA Tournament victory), then the AD’s job will be to just keep everybody happy.
This is listed last largely because UNLV is in such a good position in this area. Also, like wins and losses, too much credit or blame is heaped on the athletic director for classroom results.
It’s more a credit to the student-athletes themselves and the advisers working with them every day. Still, when it’s on your watch, you deserve some recognition, and that’s what Livengood said he’s most proud of.
Last semester, 12 of the 17 UNLV sports achieved cumulative GPAs of 3.0 or greater. The 43 student-athletes named to the fall 2012 Academic All-Mountain West team was second most in school history.
The lesson for the incoming athletic director? Just keep it going.