One of the most influential event organizers in Las Vegas hopes to match the Pac-12 against opponents from the SEC and Big Ten in early-season showcase games at Allegiant Stadium in coming years.
“That’s something we will pursue,” Steve Hill, the CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told the Hotline.
The Pac-12 championship is moving to Allegiant Stadium in December following a one-year delay due to the pandemic. But Hill envisions additional games at the Raiders’ new facility, which would provide a first-class stage for intersectional duels on Labor Day weekend (before the NFL season begins).
“I believe it’s beneficial for Las Vegas and it’s beneficial for the Pac-12,” Hill said. “It made a big difference for their basketball championship, and it will make a big difference for the football championship.”
The Pac-12’s relationship with Las Vegas has grown deeper over the years, with the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and the football title game moving to Sin City.
The conference also has a long relationship with the Las Vegas Bowl, which has upgraded its matchup and will feature the Pac-12 against teams from the Big Ten and SEC (in alternating years).
But those events don’t affect the Pac-12’s access to the most important stage: the College Football Playoff.
To this point, Pac-12 teams have been forced to play SEC opponents at neutral sites in the Eastern and Central time zones, where the logistics and crowds have worked against the conference.
USC lost badly to Alabama in 2016 in Arlington, Texas; more recently, Washington and Oregon dropped close games to Auburn in Atlanta and Arlington, respectively.
The creation of an annual or biennial showdown against top-tier SEC and Big Ten opponents in Las Vegas would help balance the competitive landscape and carry major playoff implications.
“Anything that works elsewhere works even better in Las Vegas,’’ said Hill, who has a close working relationship with new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, the former president of MGM Sports and Entertainment.
A game of that magnitude isn’t easily arranged, however.
It would require a commitment from the Raiders, the LVCVA and other local entities, plus an interested broadcast partner and willing participants.
Teams from the SEC and Big Ten seemingly would have two reasons to take the plunge, above whatever financial incentive is provided by the event organizers and TV network: fan interest, especially among deep-pocketed donors, and recruiting exposure.
Las Vegas has turned into a hotbed for high school talent, with Penn State, Ohio State and Georgia signing players from the city in recent recruiting cycles.
SEC and Big Ten teams might be hesitant to play in Las Vegas on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend because of the logistical challenge. Returning to campus late Sunday night would squeeze preparation time for their Week 2 game.
For that reason, a Saturday night date in Sin City makes more sense.
Two months from now, Hill and other potential stakeholders will get a sneak peek of Allegiant Stadium in the role of neutral-site host: Arizona and BYU are scheduled to tangle on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.
“We’ll certainly work hard to keep that kind of game going,’’ Hill said.