The natural spin at UNLV today is that the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas is the best thing that could have happened for the Rebels. The Mountain West program will get to play in a shiny new $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium, probably in 2020. That’s where the Raiders will play after yesterday’s NFL vote allowing them to leave Oakland. “Today’s decision means even more to us here as it will elevate the UNLV football program to never-before-seen heights,” Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said after the announcement. Well, Rebels football has no traction in Sin City, and now it will be sentenced to the back pages by presence of the NFL. Nothing like a massive stadium with 19,000 fans—and the upper decks curtained off. Or not. Think Georgia State in the Georgia Dome.
To me, the “Las Vegas Raiders” has a certain ring to it. I was born in Oakland. I attended the first game in the history of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Raiders-Kansas City Chiefs, 1966). But when the team uprooted itself yo Los Angeles for the 1982 season, I was done. And when they returned to Oakland in 1995, I was like, “Meh.” So, as silver-and-black as I was as a kid, the tie did not stay with me. If the Raiders were going to go anywhere now, why not Vegas? The first thing I think of is the costumes. Everything about the Raider fan experience in the stands will change with a 21st-century facility—except for the costumes. Elvis in black.
On a much, much, much smaller scale, there’s stadium news in Boise. After a decade of posturing and hand-wringing, it looks like a new facility for the Boise Hawks will materialize. St. Luke’s and Greenstone Properties, with ties to Hawks owner Agon Sports and Entertainment, have reached agreement on a deal for the 11 acres along Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive. Down would come the old Kmart building and up would go a 5,000-seat stadium with room for expansion to 7,500, plus office, retail and residential development. Jeff Eisenman, Agon’s president, has identified 2020 as a “conservative” target date for the opening of the venue.
Eisenman is also pursuing a USL soccer franchise for the facility. Eisenman said yesterday on Idaho SportsTalk he’s in contact with the USL on almost a weekly basis. “We think this is going to be a dynamic USL market, and they share that feeling with us,” said Eisenman. The USL is now soccer’s equivalent of Triple-A in baseball (kind of what the Idaho Stampede were to the NBA). Meanwhile, does this increase the chances of Boise State reviving baseball, which has been dormant at the school for 37 years? Methinks the Bronco brain trust will be in wait-and-see mode. As costly as the addition of baseball would be for Boise State, it would certainly add clout to the athletic department in the future.
So much for off-the-field news. On the field, the third week of Boise State spring football is underway, and Leighton Vander Esch is now front and center at linebacker with Joey Martarano having moved on full-time to pro baseball. Three years ago, Vander Esch had committed to the Broncos as a preferred walk-on out of Salmon River High in Riggins. He played quarterback, middle linebacker and kicker for the Savages. On offense he was responsible for 68 Salmon River touchdowns while leading the team to the 2013 1A Division II championship. At the time Vander Esch was 6-4, 210 pounds. We knew that wouldn’t last long, and today he is an imposing 6-4, 242 pounds, and is coming off a sophomore year that saw him make an increasing impact on defensive snaps. Now Vander Esch is a likely starter.
Spring football is in the books at BYU, and former Eagle High star Tanner Mangum would be the first to tell you he has a lot of work to do between now and September. The Cougars played their spring game Saturday in raw, rainy conditions, and Mangum was 10-for-16 for 102 yards, with a touchdown, three interceptions and two fumbles during 11-on-11 scrimmage situations. Coach Kalani Sitake didn’t pull any punches. “I’m a little hard on Tanner because I expect him to be perfect every time so when he’s not it’s a little disappointing for me,” Sitake said in the Deseret News. “I don’t mean to be negative. I love Tanner, but the last thing he needs is someone telling him he’s great when he makes mistakes. It’s OK. He can take it. He’s a big boy.” Mangum gets another shot at hometown Boise State October 6 in Provo.
Nevada star Cameron Oliver has decided to forego his junior and senior years and enter the NBA Draft. But the 6-8 forward from Sacramento has not signed with an agent, meaning he could opt to withdraw his name and return to the Wolf Pack as late as June 12. Oliver, who originally committed to Oregon State out of high school, averaged 14.6 points and 8.9 rebounds combined over the past two seasons. He’s projected as a second-round pick by DraftExpress.com. Elsewhere in the Mountain West, Wyoming fell 91-81 last night at Coastal Carolina in Game 1 of the CBI Finals. The series moves to Laramie tomorrow night.
It’s a rare rebuilding year for Boise State men’s tennis, and the Broncos are taking their lumps. Now, they’re just glad to be home for the first time since February 12. “Our team has put in the miles of a seasoned cross country trucker, insomnia-plagued pilot and the long distance runner, Forrest Gump,” said Boise State coach Greg Patton. With that said, the Broncos improved to 4-16 yesterday with a 6-1 win over Eastern Washington at the Boas Bubbles, their second straight victory. Patton likens his freshmen and sophomore-dominated squad to the “Bad News Bears.” But you know how that movie ended.
This Day In Sports…March 28, 1992, 25 years ago today:
One of the most famous shots in NCAA Tournament history sends Duke into its fifth consecutive Final Four. With the Blue Devils trailing Kentucky by one point in the final seconds of overtime, Christian Laettner took a long inbounds pass and buried a 15-foot turnaround buzzer-beating jumper to give Duke a 104-103 overtime victory. Almost forgotten is the fact that Laettner was 10-of-10 from the field and 10-of-10 from the free throw line that day. The Blue Devils would go on to win their second straight national championship.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)