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Analysis: How will Jessup’s exit impact UNLV athletics?

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Christopher DeVargas

UNLV’s new Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois and UNLV President Len Jessup sit down with editorial staff at Las Vegas Sun to discuss Reed-Francois’ new position, Tuesday April 18, 2017.

With the news of Len Jessup's imminent departure from UNLV, the athletic department will surely be impacted in the coming months as the university goes through the process of installing a new president.

Jessup was a hands-on president when it came to athletics, and his fingerprints will be left across all sports, for better or worse.

During his three-year tenure, he often stated his goal of getting UNLV into a Power 5 conference and pushed for infrastructure upgrades to make UNLV a more viable expansion candidate for leagues like the Pac-12 and Big 12.

He was front and center in supporting the Raiders stadium, which will become the home of UNLV football under a joint-use agreement starting with the 2020 season.

Jessup also oversaw fundraising and orchestrated a loan agreement that made it possible to begin construction on the Rebels' new football practice facility, which broke ground last month.

It remains to be seen if the next president will prioritize athletics as Jessup did, and the newly created COO position may also affect the way sports are handled at UNLV.

Whoever assumes the job next will have to survey the landscape and assess where the Rebels stand with their revenue-generating sports. The men's basketball and football programs have struggled in recent years, and both are coached by holdovers of the previous administration. Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois has been on the job for less than a year.

Marvin Menzies is heading into the third year of a five-year contract as coach of the basketball team, and while the team showed promise in 2017-18, Menzies will now be working under a president and athletic director who did not hire him. Add in the team's issues with bringing fans to the Thomas & Mack Center — which is an important staple of the athletics budget — and the president will have some decisions to make.

Menzies should be somewhat insulated by his contract status, which should ensure him at least one more year — and probably two — as long as the Rebels' rebuilding process continues to produce results. UNLV is also still on the hook for one more year of former coach Dave Rice's contract, so dismissing Menzies with two or three years left on his deal (and paying a new coach, Menzies and Rice at the same time) is probably not a realistic option.

Sanchez is also helped by his contract. Former AD Tina Kunzer-Murphy extended his deal through the 2021 season in one of her final moves before being replaced by Reed-Francois, so Sanchez should be safe for a while under a new president.

Jessup was an advocate for college athletics. There's no guarantee his successor will share his passion for developing UNLV's sports programs. For that reason alone, the Rebels are heading into the unknown under the leadership of a new president.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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