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UNLV's ESPN triumph sheds positive light on team, negative light on TV deal

UNLV not only earned a championship trophy during the 76 Classic, they gained invaluable exposure thanks to ESPN.
UNLV not only earned a championship trophy during the 76 Classic, they gained invaluable exposure thanks to ESPN.

For UNLV basketball fans, the past few days have probably felt like a Cinderella story.

No, not winning the 76 Classic. The Rebels, truth be told, were considered one of the odds on favorites to claim that tournament's championship anyway.

Perhaps then it had to do with the news that came late Monday morning, when UNLV fans learned that their beloved Runnin' Rebels were once again ranked among the nation's top 25 teams.

Nah. Being nationally ranked -- particularly after the team's victory in Anaheim -- was largely considered by fans to be an inevitability, something that would come sooner rather than later.

So how exactly then is this a Cinderella story, you ask?

Three straight games on the ESPN family of networks, that's how.

For three glorious nights over the Thanksgiving weekend, UNLV fans had something to be thankful for besides turkey, stuffing, and ma's homemade pumpkin pie. They actually got to watch their team play -- not once, not twice, but three times -- on the biggest, most influential network in all of sports.

It was as if a fairy godmother -- or at least Doug Gottlieb -- had taken the rags known as UNLV's Mountain West Conference television contract and, for three magical nights, transformed them into something beautiful.

Unfortunately, though, all good things must come to an end, and Cinderella's beautiful gown does eventually turn back into rags.

Despite being the 23rd-ranked team in the nation, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels -- so impressive, so entertaining during their three night run on ESPN -- will not have its first game as a nationally ranked squad televised.

That's right, Wednesday night's road game against 5-1 Illinois State will not be on TV. No Mountain Network, no CBS College Sports, and no Versus -- the latter presumably airing either hockey highlights, or perhaps a very special episode of the T.Ocho Show.

Who knows? Perhaps after dishing for a bit about the ongoing Brett Favre-Jenn Sterger saga, Chad and T.O. might actually take the time to discuss how a nationally ranked college basketball team can manage not to have its game not aired...anywhere.

To be fair, that's not entirely accurate. Illinois State's team website -- -- will be offering a live video feed of the game as part of their Redbirds All-Access feature. The cost? Just $9.95.

No word yet as to whether or not the Slap Chop or the Graty will be included if you order within the next thirty minutes.

Try as the Mountain West Conference might, convincing anyone that the league's TV contract is anything other than rags is an insult. With three of its teams currently ranked in the nation's top 25, it would seem incumbent upon the league to promote these programs as often as possible.

Instead, two of the conference's three TV partners -- Versus and CBS College Sports -- aired just a pair of Mountain West games each during the month of November.

Versus, at least, highlighted two of the league's high profile programs, televising the New Mexico-Arizona State game as well as UNLV's home contest against then 25-ranked Wisconsin. CBS College Sports, on the other hand, showed Wyoming -- arguably the conference's worst team -- twice, airing both of the Cowboys' games at the Cancun Classic.

UNLV's three nights on ESPN, though wildly successful in terms of helping shed a considerable amount of positive light on a very good basketball team, also further magnified just how critically important a role TV plays in the process.

If you expect to be a big time program, you'd better play -- and play often -- on big time TV networks.

Four non-conference games on two networks during the opening month of the college basketball season is not indicative of big time TV networks.

Thankfully for UNLV, they're scheduled to wear Cinderella's glass sneakers twice more this season.

On December 11th, the Rebels play at Louisville in a game that will be aired on ESPNU. Ten days later, the team travels to Kansas City to take on Kansas State. That contest will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Then, of course, there's that invitation only ball in March known as the NCAA Tournament, which UNLV -- kind of like Cinderella -- will almost certainly crash.

Unlike Cinderella, though, this Rebel team won't mind one bit if they wind up hanging around way past Midnight.


  • ben 4 years ago

    All I can say is: this is a sham. Wow.

  • Profile picture of Will Douglas
    Will Douglas 4 years ago

    Brilliant. Just brilliant.

  • azcatsfan 4 years ago

    With their continued growth in recruiting and as a program in recent years and into the future, my guess is the Rebels won't have too many more games like this.

    Is the Arizona-UNLV series over? Things were just starting to get good again. Maybe Sean Miller can sneak in and steal one of Kruger's recruits at the last minute to fire things up...

  • Profile picture of Will Douglas
    Will Douglas 4 years ago

    ONE of Kruger's recruits? I think Kruger offered a scholarship to U of A's entire starting 5...and a few of their bench players.

    I believe Arizona pulled the plug on the least for now. The very thought of losing 3 straight to UNLV was clearly too much for the 'Cats to handle.

  • gezemice 4 years ago

    Brilliant writing, as usual.

    As far as the TV deal - you are being a bit too upset. Mind you, with good reason - you are not seeing your team's games. But being the fan of a team with one of the largest national followings - we don't get every game on TV as well. Last year we had to pay to watch both of our games in - you guessed it - Las Vegas. Nobody carried them. This year, we are ranked - yet we do have games that aren't carried on television.

    So just sit back and relax, have a nice T&T, and send some letters to ESPN3 to put your non-televised games onto their online schedule.

  • Profile picture of Will Douglas
    Will Douglas 4 years ago

    Thank you as always, Mrs. Mouse. And rest assured, a nice Tanqueray and Tonic will be enjoyed...ballgame or no ballgame.

    Really surprising that the Illini's Vegas games weren't aired back in Illinois. I vaguely remember watching the Illinois-Utah game from last season.

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