Vegas, baby?! NCAA discussing championship events in Nevada

NEW YORK — There will be a “robust conversation” regarding placing championship events in Nevada, where gambling is legal, NCAA president Mark Emmert said Wednesday.

While the statement is not a reversal of the NCAA’s previous stance, it does indicate a some legitimate consideration by the association. The NCAA does not allow championship events to be placed in states where gambling is legal. Merely raising the issue in the past had been a non-starter.

The NCAA now seems at least willing to discuss the possibility, specifically in Las Vegas where at least three conferences stage their postseason basketball tournaments.

“I think it’s a great statement,” said Jim Livengood, former UNLV athletic director, reacting to Emmert’s comments. “It’s incredibly realistic. Sometimes it’s just time to have something happen. It’s been worked on for a long time. I don’t think it’s an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when.'”

Livengood is working with a group that is trying to land the entire women’s Sweet 16 portion of the NCAA Tournament in Las Vegas. The four winners would advance from the city to the Final Four in another city.

Emmert added earlier Wednesday that the NCAA board of governors “has expressed a willingness to review [championship events in Nevada] and think about it and see if it makes sense or not.”

Vegas could be money for the NCAA, and they may not even know it yet. (USATSI)
Vegas could be money for the NCAA, and they may not even know it yet. (USATSI)

The board of governors is the highest-level governing body in the new NCAA structure.

The president was speaking at the annual IMG Athletics Forum in Times Square. He stressed the current consideration is not a softening of the association’s stance adding, “How do you manage what often is seen as a hypocritical exercise?”

Emmert said he had been to three basketball tournaments in Las Vegas within the last year, “in large part because I wanted to see how it worked.”

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Las Vegas has never been considered as a host site for the NCAA Tournament because of the gambling issue. A new arena is being built in the city; it is trying to land an NHL franchise as its main tenant. The arena’s configuration for basketball — 18,800 — would easily put it in-line to be an NCAA Tournament first-round site.

“This is a debate that got started with the last board meeting with the board of governors,” Emmert added. “Many conferences are hosting championship events in Las Vegas without notable problems.

“The board has expressed a willingness to review that and think about it and see if it makes sense or not. I think we’ll have a robust conversation about that.”

Las Vegas is already home to the conference tournaments of the Pac-12, Mountain West and West Coast conferences. An NIT-style tournament will be added in March. The tournament will “compete” for teams in other tournaments such as the NIT, according to Livengood.

The sites for those events are not overseen by the NCAA.

Livengood told CBS Sports that approximately 100 schools have played in Las Vegas over the past five years.

“The gaming part, we understand that, there’s no place that ‘s more regulated than it is in Vegas,” Livengood said. “The facilities are so ready for this.”

He added there are five arenas within 1.5 miles of each other that seat at least 12,000. Livengood is a respected former administrator who says he has spoken to several influential commissioners and athletic directors about getting championship events in Las Vegas.

“I haven’t found any opposition that it wasn’t time for this to happen,” he said.

UNLV plays in the Thomas and Mack Center on its campus. The arena is the site of the Mountain West Tournament.

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