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Murray's Mailbag: Will Mountain West (and Nevada) play football this fall?

Devonte Lee
Will{ }Devonte Lee and the Nevada Wolf Pack play football this fall? We should learn the answer to that question this week.{ }

This is a gigantic week for the Mountain West, which is debating whether it can safely return to the football field this fall, which would be a reversal of course from its previous stated plan of attempting to play in the spring. But the Big Ten changed its mind, the Pac-12 might follow suit and the MW has being fairly reactionary to those power conferences. So this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag starts with the likelihood Nevada football is playing this fall. Let's get to the questions. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome.)

So we've got two separate questions here.

1) Will the Mountain West play football a month from today?

2) Will fans be allowed at such games if they are?

The MW athletic directors were expected to meet today to put together the framework for a fall season that would start Oct. 24, which would allow for an eight-game regular season and a conference championship game in advance of the New Year's Six bowl selections. Once that framework is put together, the final proposal would be off to a vote by the MW Board of Directors later this week, which is comprised of the MW university presidents. Can the athletic directors persuade the presidents to play this fall? That's that question.

I would implore everybody to read my article last week with Dr. Mark Stovak, who is one of 16 people on the NCAA's COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group. Stovak, a UNR medical school professor and Wolf Pack team physician, has great insight into COVID-19 and the pros and cons of playing athletics during a pandemic. While he could not provide a direct number of tests that would be required per week to make playing football safe (short of saying seven is best, six is second best, five is third best, etc.), the general gist seemed to be testing players three times a week with quick results (like, within 24 hours of the test). That won't be easy.

Nevada is testing once a week (with results typically in 24 to 48 hours) along with doing heart tests if a player is positive. That is thought to be at the forefront of the MW. So how will the MW get from there to having enough testing for three tests per week per school for 105-man football rosters with games scheduled to be played in a month? That's a difficult lift. The best hope is for the MW as a conference to procure those tests to spread them around the league and create a uniform testing policy, which includes heart tests for those who recover after being positive. That's what the Big Ten and Pac-12 conference office did, although we don't know if they actually have those tests are just have an agreement to get them.

Even if these tests were procured by the MW, this is very expensive for a conference with a moderate television contract (each non-Boise State school gets around $3.5 million a year from the media rights deal). Teams would have to start training camp in about 10 days if you're going to kick off Oct. 24. Officials at Nevada, Wyoming, Boise State and Fresno State offered statements last week that seemed to indicate they were encouraged there would be a football season soon, so my guess is the MW Board of Directors vote this week to start playing in October, although I'm not hugely optimistic that means MW teams would be hitting our three tests a week threshold. Also, I don't see how you can justify playing football but not volleyball, cross country, soccer, etc. this fall. That seems like a Title IX issue unless those sports were to be played in the spring.

So, now that I've guessed the MW will play football this fall, should you get your tailgating equipment ready? I would advise not gathering in large groups until a vaccine or rapid daily testing is available for everybody in the country (getting everybody antigen tests to take each morning is probably more important than a vaccine since 40 percent of Americans say they're going to get vaccinated anyway; you know, lots of people don't believe in science). At this stage, Reno 1868 FC is not allowed to have fans in the stands, but my guess is Governor Steve Sisolak, who is taking a ton of heat, would relax those rules if Nevada and UNLV football were playing next month and would indeed allow limited fans in the stands.

I asked Stovak if he thinks fans should be allowed at sporting events and he said: “I don’t know. I sort of fall in the same category as the soccer guys that say, ‘If casinos can be open why can’t we be open?’ I sort of agree with them. But I don’t know because we never got to the point of playing games where we'd even think if we were going to be allowed to have fans or not. We’ll find out hopefully in the spring.”

One step at a time, and the next step for the MW is deciding whether a fall season can be safely played or if waiting until the spring would be better. We should get our answer this week, but it does seem like a worst-case scenario would still offer a spring season. I think you'll see some Wolf Pack football before fall 2021. The question is just when. And I think it's coming sooner rather than later.

No because that undercuts the attempt to sell season tickets, and season-ticket sales are priority No. 1 for all colleges because that's made money whether the fan shows up or not. You don't want to put in promotions that will deemphasize buying a season ticket, and giving away a free game as part of a three-game package would do just that. That would work better in basketball since there are 15 home games a year. But I do get your larger point of trying to get fans to at least attend a game so you can sell them on your in-game experience so perhaps they come back for more.

I think that's a little premature. The Mountain West has to figure out of it's going to even play football this fall before it sets the schedule. Setting the schedule should be fairly easy. But with Fresno State, Hawaii and Air Force apparently uncertain on whether they'd play this season, the first order of business is figuring out when the league is playing and which schools will be active. If for some reason those three schools don't play this season (Fresno State appears willing to play), it'd be a true round-robin eight-game season. As is, the MW plays an eight-game conference season, so the previously released schedule could serve as the backbone of a shortened fall schedule (at least the opponents that were scheduled) with minor changes on dates.

The Miyagi Excellence Award would always go to Jian Li You, but since I mention her so often for her excellence, I'll give it to former Nevada rifle coach Fred Harvey, who was the program's only head coach (he did the job for 24 years) and was the 2003 NCAA coach of the year. He donated his small salary back to the program. He gave his heart and soul to Wolf Pack rifle before it was shuttered as a Division I sport last season. If you want a non-You active coach, go with men's golf coach Jacob Wilner, who has built a national-level program relatively quietly, and done so in an environment not ideal for golf (because of the snowy winters).

That's a great question. Let's take a look at the tenures of both coaches at their respective locations.

* Steve Alford: Six seasons, 25.8 wins per season, six MW titles (one per year), 2-3 in the NCAA Tournament

* Eric Musselman: Four seasons, 27.5 wins per season, four MW titles (one per year), 2-3 in the NCAA Tournament

Damn near identical. Musselman inherited a more difficult roster situation, so he gets a smidge more credit than Alford for his tenure. In terms of sustaining it, I give the smallest of edges to Alford, in large part because New Mexico's financial infrastructure was better (a larger fan base and bigger arena, thus more annual money) and because he largely built his program with prep players whereas Musselman relied more heavily on transfers, which can provide more challenges in building long-term sustainability. That said, I still think Musselman's Nevada teams would have won a ton of conference championships and had a lot of NCAA Tournament berths while winning 25 games a year if he stayed put. Both would have had sustained success for sure. Musselman has shown at Arkansas he can recruit high school players.

I do wonder if we'll ever see Musselman stay at one place for a long time. Some coaches almost need to skip around locations because their intensity can wear guys out. Musselman has that kind of personality, which works better in college than the NBA, so maybe he does stay at Arkansas long term, but his determination and approach is not for everybody. You can't go wrong with either coach, but Alford turned his team over a couple of times at New Mexico and showed he could sustain it. A post-Martin twins/Caroline tenure at Nevada for Musselman would have been interesting, but he recruited Jalen Harris, who was a big star.

Very active. Nevada has poured a lot of time and attention into that class, which is the first class Alford has been able to spend 18 months recruiting, so I would not be surprised if the Wolf Pack added another 2021 recruit and figured out the scholarship situation later. I also would try and get at least one transfer in the class. My preference is two transfers per class, but that's likely not possible given the scholarship crunch the Wolf Pack faces. But if the over/under for the 2021 class was set at two prospects (which Nevada is currently at with Nick Davidson and Jalen Weaver), I'd take the over.

Here's the "What If" column if you missed it. But that was a wide open shot (and I mean WIDE OPEN), and it was Hallice Cooke's sweet spot all season. He was the king of the corner three before hitting back rim on that one. It happens. If Cooke makes that three, Nevada is up two points (66-64) with 49 seconds left. The odds of winning at that point has to be north of 80 percent. But instead, the shot is missed and Loyola had an easy runout that turned into two free throws since Josh Hall was forced to foul. So, yes, Nevada most likely wins if Cooke hits that shot, although it's not a guarantee. You'd like to think the worst-case scenario is you're heading to overtime. But it's a make or miss game, and Nevada just missed two many threes that night, including the big one by Cooke. Here is that game if you want to relive it. Cooke's shot comes at 1:03.50. I wonder if Eric Musselman, if given a do-over, would have fouled with Nevada down one and 36 seconds left (30 on the shot clock). I would have fouled to extend the game.


Jamain Stephens, a 20-year-old who played at Division II California University of Pennsylvania, died of a blood clot to his heart after testing positive from COVID-19 (increased risk of a blood clots is an aftereffect of having COVID). "I'm very, very nervous for these young men and women," Stephens' mother told CBS News of playing sports during a pandemic. "These kids, their lives are priceless. And it's just not worth it. It's not worth it." Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney went to the emergency room and has dealt with heart issues. Generally, young people (and people in general) are not going to be hospitalized if they get COVID-19, but it's not accurate to say college football players haven't had issues with the disease when testing positive.

Offensive and defensive line plus quarterback. With quarterback, oftentimes it's luck. I don't even think real GMs know how to draft quarterbacks. But if you build from the lines out, you have a great chance of being a championship contender. You almost always need a top-10 quarterback in the NFL to win a Super Bowl. But the times when teams without a top-10 quarterback have won a ring (Nick Foles with the Eagles, Eli Manning with the Giants, Brad Johnson with the Bucs, Trent Dilfer with the Ravens), it's been because that team has been excellent in both sides of the trenches. Defense starts with stopping the run and getting a pass rush with the front four. That's line play. The Patriots have won Super Bowls when their offensive line was good and gave Tom Brady time. Offensive and defensive line play isn't sexy, but it wins games. I'd also take a quarterback every two drafts just to try and strike gold at some point because if you do that, you're set for a decade.

Bo Bichette is going to be the best out of those three players, but he's tagged to a good but not great father (like Fernando Tatis Jr.). Vlad Jr. and Cavan Biggio are paired with Hall of Fame fathers, so they have the big lead. As a result, I'd go:

1. Vlad Sr. and Jr., although junior needs to start hitting the ball in the air. Dude is a groundball machine, and that doesn't work in modern baseball. Plus, he adds nothing defensively or on the basepaths.

2. Dante and Bo Bichette. Bo is a tremendous player who could figure into the top five in MVP voting a few times in his career.

3. Craig and Cavan Biggio. Craig Biggio is overrated. He's Ian Kinsler with longevity. Chase Utley and Lou Whitaker were both better players but won't get into the Hall of Fame. But Craig Biggio hit the magic number of 3,000 hits. He was a fringe Hall of Famer in my book, and probably should have made it but isn't inner circle. And Cavan might not get a deal after his arbitration years, although he's a solid player right now given the walks he draws and passable second base defense.

If Vlad Jr. can get the ball in the air, he could be a beast, but I wouldn't put my money on anybody besting the Bonds boys. Bobby Bonds was a hell of a player (57.9 career WAR, just 1.6 shy of Vlad Sr.) and Barry Bonds (with steroids) is the greatest hitter ever, so it's nearly impossible to top those two in terms of best father-son baseball duo ever.

Ladies and gentlemen: We have a record! Our friend Thomas asked an unprecedented eight questions this week, so let's go through all of them now.

The list of best 1980s movie franchises include Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Friday the 13th, Rambo, Karate Kid, Lethal Weapon and Rocky, although that started in the 1970s. But my favorite was Police Academy, which put out six movies in the 1980s. Mahoney, Hightower, Tackleberry and Them Boys were great. But it was Michael Winslow's sound effects as Larvell Jones that made that series most memorable for me. In the 1990s, I'd take Home Alone (obviously) over City Slickers, Jurassic Park, Beethoven, Austin Powers, Batman, Die Hard, Major League, The Naked Gun, Toy Story and, of course, Free Willy. The best bridging both decades is Terminator followed by Die Hard. The 1980s had better franchises than the 1990s, which is probably the worst decade for franchises dating back to the 1970s.

If I had to pick one person, I'd go with Joe Crowley with a statue in front of the building named after him. In terms of your question, I'll go with Colin Kaepernick, although I think that's at least a decade away. A lot of boosters are not fans of him, and money talks. Long shot is Washoe the chimpanzee, who was the first non-human to learn sign language while studying at UNR, as well as Ron Toomer, who helped design the Apollo spacecraft heat shield as well as 93 roller coasters, including the first inverting coaster.

For a male dog, Twain.

For a female dog, Sierra.

For a dog with two names, Battle Born.

6.9 percent chance the Pottsville, Penn.,-based beer is served at Mackay Stadium or Lawlor Events Center in the next decade.

Considering I said "Tom Brady will not win another playoff game" in my NFL season preview, no, I don't think Brady will win another Super Bowl.

The most likely in terms of betting odds are:

* Redtails (3/1)

* Generals (4/1)

* Presidents (5/1)

* Lincolns (8/1)

* Veterans (8/1)

Before I looked up the odds, I would have said "Redtails," too, so that's my guess. And hopefully Washington has a new owner when that happens.

I had Ohio State second in my preseason Top 25, so I'd give the Big Ten a 70 percent chance of getting at least one team in the College Football Playoff. Penn State (No. 8 in my preseason poll), Wisconsin (13th), Michigan (14th) and Minnesota (17th) also have a chance. Outside of Ohio State, they all probably need to play the full eight games to have a shot compared to these other conferences playing larger schedules. It'll be hard to put a 5-0 Big Ten team in if they have to cancel some games due to COVID. Their margin for error is shrunk.

This 1984 Apple commercial is widely deemed the best commercial ever, but I'd take Bud's "Wassup" commercials.

As disastrous as the AOL-Time Warner merger was, both still exist 20 years after their partnership, and I would not bet on San Jose State existing as a Division I athletic department in 20 years, so I'm going with AOL-Time Warner as the better deal. At least Time Warner got a ton of those free AOL CDs that offered endless hours of dial up. People in their 20s have no idea about the video below. But people 35-plus are intimately familiar with it. It was our roadway to freedom (or at least to some weird online chat rooms).

No. It was not illegal. In Karate Kid (the original movie), Johnny kicks not one, not two but three opponents in the face in matches and gets a point in each circumstance (including earlier in the fight against Daniel). So precedent is set that kicks to the face are legal and rewarded with a point in the All Valley Tournament. That said, Daniel LaRusso's character in Cobra Kai is super unlikeable, so I wouldn't mind him taking a kick to the face from Johnny.

Agreed. Johnny's complete inability to handle any technology, including computers, cell phones and Tinder, was one of the angles that made the series a little unrealistic. The other major one was two 50-year-olds having such a strong beef 30 years after their All Valley Tournament match. It's hard to imagine both being stuck in their adolescence, especially Daniel given how successful of a business person he became. My third issue is these two seem to bump into each other by accident quite often given how large Southern California is.

1. The Karate Kid (1984 version): It's the best around.

2. Cobra Kai, season 1: I loved getting more of a backstory on Johnny.

3. The Karate Kid Part II: The hurricane scene shook a young Chris Murray.

4. The Karate Kid (2010 version): It was fine, but it didn't need to be 2 hours, 20 minutes long.

5. Cobra Kai, season 2: There are no good guys in this season, except maybe Miguel. They all suck.

6. The Next Karate Kid: Not Hilary Swank's best work.

7. The Karate Kid Part III: They should have stopped after the first two.

With part two of your question, the NBA clearly has responded best to COVID-19. The league's bubble might have cost $150 million, but it has stamped out any positive COVID-19 cases and we're a week away from the NBA Finals. College football's reaction has easily been the worst because everybody is doing their own thing with no ruling body to lead the way. And, yes, I consider college football a pro sport. Texas football makes $145 million in revenue. The players might not get paid, but it's a pro sport.

UNLV's new president, Keith Whitfield, will make a $500,000 base salary plus $8,000 a year for a car allowance, $18,000 in housing allowance and a $5,000 host account. His predecessor, Len Jessup, made $525,000 in base salary. So Brian Sandoval's salary is in line with his predecessor, Marc Johnson, who also made $500,000 a year, and his southern counterpart. My tweet last week read, "Fun fact: New UNR president Brian Sandoval will make a base salary $500,000. He made $150,000 a year as Nevada's governor from 2011-19. Let your kids grow up to be college presidents and not governors, I guess." I think some interrupted that as me arguing Sandoval didn't deserve $500,000. That was not the case. It was meant to show how much more university presidents within a state make compared to the most powerful person in the state. It's odd the governor is paid so little, comparatively. And it shows why tuition is so high.

Do you mean among active coaches? I honestly have no idea who's in the NIAA Hall of Fame and who's not. There isn't some master list to look at, and the archive of inductees only goes back to 2008. Five active coaches who aren't in (to my knowledge) but should be one day include Reno baseball coach Pete Savage, Spanish Springs softball coach Jeff Davidson, Bishop Manogue football coach Ernie Howren, Elko boys basketball coach Chris Klekas and Spanish Springs wrestling coach Joe Imelli.

All of them? Yes, all of them! If a Northern Nevada high school recruit is good enough to get FBS offers from other schools, the Wolf Pack should be hot and heavy on that player, too. There are four juniors who are currently FBS recruits in town, including McQueen running back Ashton Hayes, Bishop Manogue offensive lineman Sioape Vatikani, Douglas linebacker Christopher Smalley and McQueen athlete Robby Snelling (currently committed to Stanford baseball). Three of those four (all except for Smalley) have Power 5 offers, so it won't be easy to keep them, but Nevada has successfully recruited local kids over other Power 5 offers before. Jay Norvell has yet to sign a Northern Nevada player out of high school, although he does have a commitment from 2021 quarterback Drew Scolari. So, I'd go guns blazing on the four juniors mentioned above as well as Manogue defensive end/linebacker Malcolm McClure, who also is in the 2022 class (he's the son of former Nevada offensive line coach Angus McClure, who is now at Cal, although his family lives in Reno; they live down the street from me). Personally, I think landing local recruits is a little overrated. The end goal is winning no matter where your recruits are from. But fans certainly care about keeping local recruits at home, and you need to appease fans to draw.

History tells us you can be successful as UNLV's basketball coach and move up the ladder. History tells us you cannot be successful as UNLV's football coach and move up the ladder. That being said, I'm going with football coach Marcus Arroyo because I think basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger could win enough to jump to a Power 5 school before Arroyo gets to that point with the football team. If Arroyo gets to a bowl game in the next three seasons (which really isn't that difficult to do), he's going to get an extension. But will he win enough to jump to the Power 5? That won't be easy. So my guess is Arroyo is UNLV's coach longer than Otzelberger, who could coach his way to a bigger school or fail to hit the loftier standard set but his program and face some heat. If Arroyo can settle into the six-win range, he should be fine long term.

One thing you notice when you cover a PGA Tour event is how small some of these great golfers are. Size doesn't really help in golf. Arnold Palmer was 5-foot-10. So was Jack Nicklaus. Gary Player was tiny. Tom Watson was 5-9. In fact, of the top-11 major winners of all-time, only one was 6 feet or taller, that being 6-1 Tiger Woods. Bryson DeChambeau bulking up certainly worked for him. He had never finished top 10 in a major (in 14 tries, including six cuts) prior to the pandemic bulk up. In the two majors since then, he has a tie for fourth and a win. Dudes looks like Gaston out there.

As Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy (and even Brooks Koepka) showed us, it's hard to compete for major titles year in and year out. These guys seem to fall in and out of form pretty easily, which is what made Tiger Woods' run so excellent. My guess is DeChambeau wins one more major in the next year but falls back after that, which would have more to do with how difficult it is to sustain that level and not his weightlifting model. I know some pro golfers have been critical of DeChambeau's bomb and gouge strategy, but the goal is to get the ball in the hole by whatever means necessarily. He's been doing that as well as anybody since the PGA Tour's restart.

As I've mentioned earlier, DeChambeau's dad is from Winnemucca, and his life was saved when he met a former high school friend 27 years after graduating who donated his kidney to save Jon DeChambeau's life. Cool story.

Yes. Football is America's most popular sport because of betting and fantasy sports. That adds a vested interest into what you're watching. The Cubs announced earlier this month it is putting a sports book into Wrigley Field. More will join. There's money to be made there, so you're going to see NFL and NBA teams follow suit. As for myself, I don't bet regularly. Maybe once a year on the Super Bowl just to add some interest. But I'm pretty stingy with my money (outside of tipping where I'm overly generous), and I don't want to waste my family's money on sports betting, which always leans toward the house.

I'd take the first of those two because you always think you can smooth out a pitcher's mechanics so they can repeat their delivery, which would give a flamethrower a higher ceiling than a guy who can't hit 90. There are very few pitchers like Kyle Hendricks who can live below 90 miles per hour. It's more difficult to add five miles per hour to a fastball than to smooth out a delivery. The margin for error for the flamethrower is way higher. Related: Hendricks' average fastball velocity of 87.4 miles per hour this season is almost lower than his average exit velocity allowed (85.8 mph). It's amazing he can post a 2.93 ERA with those numbers.

With all due respect to Elbert "Ickey" Woods' Icky Shuffle, I'm going with the Atlanta Falcons' Dirty Bird, made famous by running back Jamaal Anderson. If you're looking for a one-off celebration, I'd take Terrell Owens' spiking it on the Dallas star because it set off a fracas with a slight edge over Randy Moss' moon. But Dirty Bird wins for best continuous celebration.

See y'all next week!

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. He writes a weekly Monday Mailbag despite it giving him a headache and it taking several hours to finish. But people seem to like it, so he does it anyway. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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