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Murray's Mailbag: Will wildfire smoke push Nevada to get indoor football facility?

Devonte Lee
Nevada running back Devonte Lee and the Wolf Pack football team is dodging the wildfire smoke in addition to tackles. (Nevada athletics)

Wildfire smoke has invaded Reno yet again, which personally canceled my family's two-day camping trip at Logger Campground, which admittedly is a minor deal given how it's impacting others close to the Dixie Fire, the largest fire in California history. It also has impacted Nevada football training camp, with two practices over the weekend being moved indoors (but not into an indoor football practice facility because that doesn't exist). That's where the questions for this week's Monday Mailbag begin. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

Actually, today is my first day back in the Nevada Sports Net offices. Our studio is currently being re-modeled, so NSN Daily won't return to air until later this month. But it's interesting being back in the office after working from home for the last 17 months. I had to wear something other than boxers.

Depends on how much the lottery win is. If it's $1 billion, I might consider it. Anything at $500 million or less, probably not. I need to prioritize my houses in Maui, Tahoe, Italy, Australia, San Diego and Bora Bora first.

But this week's wildfire smoke has underlined the importance for Nevada to get an indoor football practice facility, something it has lusted after but failed to build the last 20 years. And it's fair to point out every other cold-weather Mountain West school had an indoor football practice facility when Nevada joined the Mountain West in 2012, almost a decade ago. So rival schools have been able to accomplish it, and they did so a long time ago. It's the one big facility shortcoming for Nevada football. I've long thought an indoor facility is largely a recruiting tool, but there are certain times when Nevada would need it to practice, like heavy snow days, 100-plus-degree days and poor air-quality days, which are becoming more and more prevalent. I don't recall a Nevada football practice being canceled or moved due to air quality before 2013, but now it seems like it happens 5-10 times a season, including the Wolf Pack having to practice inside Lawlor Events Center/Ramon Sessions Performance Center on Saturday and Sunday.

I asked second-year defensive coordinator Brian Ward about this development at practice Monday morning and he said, "This is nothing I've experienced. There's always a way to adapt to the weather. I've lived in every tough weather environment from North Dakota to Syracuse, N.Y., to Joplin, Mo., to Tornado Alley in Kansas. We've always found a way to get it done. This smoke definitely gives you something to battle. I've never had to deal with this during fall camp." Last year, Jay Norvell stumped for an indoor practice facility, saying, "Today we have to cancel practice for the fifth time In the last 2 weeks because of poor air quality. We need an indoor facility that could not only be used by Nevada athletics but also benefit the entire Reno sports community, including high school programs. It’s disruptive to the team. An indoor facility can be a huge benefit, not just because of the winter and having a place to work out and practice indoors, but during this time of year with the wildfires and the poor air quality."

I'm sure an indoor facility will happen at some point given its importance, but it's been a long wait for one Wolf Pack football coach after another and can't get here soon enough. We're only going to have more fires in the future due to climate change.

A potential Top 25 football team being forced to practice in a basketball arena definitely shines a light on Nevada's lack of an indoor practice facility. Everybody involved with the Wolf Pack would love to make that happen, but it's going to require a major lead gift, something like $5 million. In February, I asked President Brian Sandoval about the lack of indoor facility.

"They missed a lot of days (due to air quality) because of that," Sandoval said. "It's certainly on the radar and something I'm supportive of, but it has to be a facility that's for everybody. If we can make that happen (I'm in favor) because we're one of the few teams in the conference that doesn't have a facility like that. The important thing is I don't want it defined as just an indoor practice facility for just the football team. If we're going to build something like that, it's going to be for the students as well. It's a place for the students to have intramural sports, for the women's soccer team to be able to practice, so it really will be a multi-purpose facility that will benefit everybody. But it will allow for our football team to be able to practice indoors."

The Wolf Pack came closest to breaking ground on an indoor facility in 2013 when university students voted to help fund the proposed project. With a 58.5 percent support, UNR students approved a $30-per-semester student fee that'd rise to $60 per semester to help fund an indoor practice facility and new fitness center. The fee was expected to create $18 million in revenue for the construction of a $47.5 million student fitness center and a $25 million Fieldhouse that would be used primarily as a practice facility for the Wolf Pack.

Last year, Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth addressed fan questions about the status of the indoor facility during a Mailbag posted on Nevada Sports Net.

"The long-awaited and much-needed indoor fieldhouse is still a dream for us," Knuth said. "The project is estimated to cost $15-18 million and will be 100% privately funded. Finding that amount of money has been a challenge for decades. I believe we can get it done as a shared-use, shared-funded facility with the university students funding a portion and private fundraising providing the rest. We have to find the private dollars before we can ask the students to participate."

This is the white whale project for Nevada, and has been so for the last two decades. How far away is it? I think it's a good distance away. UNR's academic wing just allocated $12 million to Nevada for its budget shortfall for the 2021 fiscal year, which was a major gift. If Nevada is going to build an indoor facility, it's going to be on the backs of private donors rather than a gift from the university or city. Somebody or some foundation has to step up with the big money, which to this point hasn't happened.

Given Doug Knuth's estimated price tag of $15 million-$18 million, and it's probably higher now given the cost of construction, you're looking at 13,000 Wolf Pack fans (roughly the combined season-ticket base in football and basketball minus those who have season tickets in both sports) donating $1,385 each (or $5,540 for a family of four season-ticket holders). That'd get you to $18 million. Although I might be over-estimating the 15,000 Wolf Pack season-ticket holders. I have no way of knowing how much overlap there is between the Nevada football season-ticket base (7,877) and the Nevada basketball season-ticket base (7,220), which is a combined 15,097 fans. I figured 2,000 fans have season tickets to both Nevada football and basketball. But, roughly speaking, a $1,385 donation per season-ticket holder would cover the tab.

As for your second question, Nevada is never building an indoor stadium. I wouldn't even be in favor of that because Northern Nevada autumns are great, and snow football also is great. Worth noting Nevada has poured around $15 million into Mackay Stadium since 2016, so that's basically the cost of an indoor facility that instead went to Mackay Stadium renovations, which included the creation of a club level, which has enhanced revenue. An indoor football practice facility doesn't directly impact revenue, which is why you can't really build one of those on a loan like the Wolf Pack did for the Mackay renovation.

The best thing you can do is win. Nevada has won eight Mountain West championships since the league went to its current membership in 2013. That's way behind San Diego State (31), New Mexico (30), Colorado State (25), Boise State (23) and UNLV (19). The good news for Nevada is it's been good in the revenue sports, which matter most in conference realignment. But Nevada does not have power-conference facilities. It does not have a power-conference budget. It does not have a power-conference media market. It does not have power-conference academics. The Mountain West is a perfect conference for Nevada, if that league continues to exist when this latest round of realignment finishes. We've seen some MW schools make facility improvements to try and get a Power 5 bid (Colorado State and San Diego State just built/are building new football stadiums), but I don't think Nevada building an indoor football practice facility enhances its attractiveness to a power conference.

This is probably the first time it's happened. I don't have Phil Steele's rankings in front of me, but I looked through them when I went to Barnes & Noble to buy The Nickel Boys (good book, by the way), and if I remember correctly Steele had Nevada ranked 28th the in nation. So he's the high guy on the Wolf Pack in the national preseason rankings. Nevada's consensus preseason ranking from Athlon, Lindy's, Phil Steele, ESPN's FPI, SP+, Pro Football Focus and College Football News is 61st in the nation. Here's the entire Mountain West:

41. Boise State

61. Nevada

68. San Jose State

76. San Diego State

79. Fresno State

82. Wyoming

86. Air Force

96. Hawaii

99. Colorado State

114. New Mexico

119. Utah State

121. UNLV

I would honestly take Nevada's roster over Boise State's roster, and I think this is the first time since the Broncos moved to the Mountain West in 2011 that it didn't have the best roster in the conference. This is a rare circumstance where the Wolf Pack is more talented than Boise State, something that hasn't happened since 2010, although the Broncos' roster was probably better than the Wolf Pack's roster that season. Boise State had 15 NFL players in 2010 to Nevada's 13.

"Doesn't seem to be too top heavy" is a nice way of saying "Doesn't have a bona fide preseason Top 25 team," and that's largely because Boise State isn't filling that role, which it usually slots into. The 2016 season was the most balanced Mountain West we've seen since the conference went to its current membership in 2012. No team went better than 6-2 in MW play. Six of the 12 teams won five or six conference games. Ten of the 12 teams went at least 3-5. You could see another season like that. The most interesting aspect to the Mountain West this season is the balance of power has shifted from the Mountain Division to the West Division, which looks way superior on paper. It's been the opposite of that since the divisional split in 2013. From 2013-19, the Mountain went 83-50 against the West. But the West went 11-4 against the Mountain last season and that should continue. Of the MW's top-six teams, five could be in the West Division.

I don't care that much about helmets/uniforms, which probably puts me in the minority, but the new silver helmets get an 8 out of 10 from me (here are pictures of them). Nevada has been wearing its white helmets during fall camp practices thus far. North Carolina State's top-hat wolf helmets get a 10 out of 10 (here are pictures of them). Too bad Nevada can't use those anymore. You second question seems to have a typo or two in there, but if you're asking whether Coach Norvell is the right leader for the program in terms of Nevada pride and representation, the answer is "yes." During his first Mountain West media days, he was brought to tears when talking about Wolf Pack football history. His love of football overall, and more specifically Nevada football, isn't a show for the fans. He truly cares about improving the brand and legacy of the Wolf Pack football program, and part of that is a result of his close relationship with Chris Ault, which also is genuine.

Yes, unless there's some massive change of thinking from the Wolf Pack's perspective, this will continue. Nevada has future non-conference road games with the following Power 5 programs: Cal (unknown payment); Kansas State ($1 million); Iowa ($1.5 million); USC ($1.6 million); Minnesota ($1.2 million); Penn State ($1.45 million); and UCLA ($1.3 million). Excluding the Cal game, that's six future Power 5 opponents with an average payout of $1.342 million per game. Home-and-home arrangements, or more likely two-for-one arrangements, are basically revenue neutral. Nevada needs the big road payouts financially, so you're likely to see a lot of Idaho State, New Mexico State, Texas State, UC Davis type teams at Mackay Stadium in the non-conference season. I'd prefer to see more American Athletic Conference or upper-level Conference USA/MAC teams. But the road-only agreements with Power 5s are locked in through 2026 and likely here to stay after Nevada had some Power 5 home contests in recent years (with Washington State in 2014, Arizona in 2015, Oregon State in 2018 and Purdue in 2019). Nevada has done a good job of scheduling winnable road games with Power 5s, including games with Northwestern, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Cal, etc. Those offer big payouts but aren't against top-10 teams where you're going to get blasted.

The BYU game would have helped, but I believe fans still would have been upset with the Wolf Pack's non-conference schedule. In case you missed it, Steve Alford broke down the schedule with NSN last week, saying Nevada had games with Arizona State, BYU, Washington and Vanderbilt at one point. Losing the Hall of Fame game at Arizona State was the biggest loss. BYU was the second-biggest loss. Nevada is still playing Washington, just in a different neutral-site tournament, so that's not a big deal. And the game with Vandy ... the Commodores are 29-60 overall and 6-46 in the ACC the last three seasons, so they're a "Power 5 team" in name only.

Look, it's not a great schedule. There were circumstances that led to that. If you're a Wolf Pack fan, you just have to hope it doesn't cost a 26-7 Wolf Pack team on Selection Sunday. Nevada needs a lot of things to break in its favor in terms of the schedule to get an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. As for a two-for-one series with a power-conference team, mid-major coaches generally don't like those. The Wolf Pack should have scheduled a home-and-home with a Power 5 opponent starting on the road this season if that was an option. I get Nevada not wanting to do that given it already had road games with Santa Clara, USF and Texas Arlington scheduled, but it would have been worth adding a road Power 5 game if that was available.

I just looked at the Texas Arlington contract, for example, and there is a "force majeure clause" in there, which is a contract provision that relieves each party from performing its contractual obligation when certain circumstances beyond their control arise. Could Nevada have gotten out of those contracts without paying a buyout (the Texas Arlington game's buyout was $100,000, for example)? Yes, I think so. Although it might not have been worth it if it caused future difficulties to scheduling home-and-home series with teams like Arlington, USF and Santa Clara, each of whom Nevada had contracts against. I think the biggest issue is that of the five previously scheduled non-conference games, three were on the road. Teams don't want to play more than three non-conference road games, so that put Nevada in a tough position as it probably could only get a Power 5 on the road this season, and Coach Alford wanted as many home games as possible to generate revenue for the department. As for football, the 2020 non-conference games are washed away. That includes contests with Arkansas, South Florida, UTEP and UC Davis. The Arkansas game was worth $1.5 million. That was a big loss.

Nevada football's most common opponent has been UC Davis, which it has played 54 times (and is 30-21-3 against). It's played Fresno State 52 times. In men's basketball, it's San Jose State with 108 games (Nevada holds a 60-48 lead). In women's basketball, it's 65 games against Fresno State (the Wolf Pack is 14-51 against the Bulldogs). In baseball, it's San Jose State, which Nevada is 91-86 against (177 total games). In softball, it's Fresno State with 59 games (the Wolf Pack is 19-40 against the Bulldogs). In volleyball, it's Boise State, which it has played 54 times (and is 25-29 against). In women's soccer, it is Fresno State and San Jose State, which Nevada has played 23 times each. It is 1-18-4 against the Bulldogs and 6-15-2 against the Spartans.

It's not Nevada's top rival, but I'd consider it a rival. For the "most played teams" list above, Pacific ranked high on most of those. I'd consider Pacific a historic top-10 Wolf Pack rival along with UNLV, Boise State, Fresno State, San Jose State, UC Davis, etc., given how often the teams have played. It's hard to be a true rival when (a) you're not in the same conference and (b) both schools don't sponsor football, but Pacific counts in my book. If you're talking big rivals, there are only three for Nevada for me, and those are UNLV, Boise State and Fresno State.

Despite Nevada basketball having three first-round NBA draft picks in its history and Nevada football having zero first-round NFL draft picks in its history, I'd still say Wolf Pack football, only because Carson Strong and Romeo Doubs could make that happen in the 2022 draft.

Team USA was first in gold medals won (39) and first in overall medals won (113), so it's hard to call that an under-performance. But the U.S. won 46 golds and 121 total medals in 2016. And there were 1,080 medals handed out in 2020 compared to 973 in 2016. So, despite 11 percent more medals being awarded in these Games, Team USA was down in golds and total medals. The American track and field and swimming teams were both down from 2016. Team USA has had better Olympics showings, but first place is still first place.

You basically would need the U.S. members to win gold and silver and the bronze to be awarded to somebody who posted a lower score than the person who finished in third at the U.S. Olympic trials. So while that's possible, that didn't happen in these Tokyo Games.

This is the closest you're going to get to that. The RGJ also had a 46-second snippet of the speech.

Despite JaVale McGee winning three NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal, I can't see him getting a statue on UNR's campus. Colin Kaepernick will have a statue at some point, but that's at least a decade away by the looks of it. So I'll take Kaepernick over McGee, who should get a nice shrine in Legacy Hall for his historic career. That shrine can be next to a picture of him punting a ball against San Jose State during his sophomore season with the Wolf Pack.

Caleb Martin was cut after Charlotte signed Kelly Oubre to a two-year, $15 million deal, which was a bummer. You're right that Martin struggled last season, shooting just 37.5 percent from the field, including 24.8 percent from three. Martin's NBA role is a three-and-D wing, so 24.8 percent from three had to be tough to swallow for Charlotte after Martin hit 54.1 percent from three in 18 games as a rookie. For Charlotte, it basically came down to keeping one of the Martin twins, and Cody is the better defender, although he's not out of the woods yet. Charlotte has one guaranteed roster spot left for Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels. That could go either way. As for Caleb Martin, he should get a training camp invite with another team. Most teams are nearing capacity with their 15-man rosters, so Caleb's best shot could be a two-way contract. It's hard to stick in the NBA, which makes Ramon Sessions' 11-year career and JaVale McGee's 14-year career that much more impressive. Only eight Wolf Pack players have appeared in 100 NBA games, with Cody Martin hitting that number on the nose. It's the most difficult of the big four sports leagues to stick in given the roster sizes.

Caleb Martin has all the intangibles you want in a player. But, as they say, it's a make or miss league. Martin has shot 39.1 percent in 71 NBA games, including 31.5 percent from three. His true shooting percentage went from 59.5 percent as a rookie to 46.5 percent last season (the league average is 57.2 percent). He should get a training camp invite, but those shooting numbers have to go up for him to stick. I've learned to never count out a Martin twin, but it's going to be tough to get a 15-man roster spot at this juncture in the calendar.

It's probably 50-50 odds Cody Martin is still with the Hornets on opening night. I do think his defensive ability gives him a chance, but Charlotte is deep on the wing after the Kelly Oubre add (the Hornets also have Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges, Jalen McDaniels and the recently drafted James Bouknight).

Nothing beyond the fact it had to be a "drug of abuse" given the severity of the suspension. "The NBA, NBA teams, and the NBPA are prohibited from publicly disclosing information regarding the testing or treatment of any NBA player under the Anti-Drug Program, other than to announce a player’s suspension or dismissal from the league," the NBA said in a news release at the time. Here is the list of drugs considered by the NBA to be a "drug of abuse." While Jalen Harris has been "dismissed and disqualified from the NBA," he could still reapply and earn reinstatement, which seven previous players who got permanently ban achieved. Harris must complete an in-patient treatment before being allowed to apply for reinstatement. That suspension is one of the most shocking breaking news items I've covered. I never would have guessed this would have been Harris' NBA fate. I thought he was the Wolf Pack's best pro prospect in the Eric Musselman era outside of Cameron Oliver, even better than the Martin twins. And he was playing well at the end of his rookie season. But it's unlikely he plays another NBA game.

The only real chance of that is against UNLV, but I'm going to say no. It takes a good amount of road fans to fill Mackay, and I don't see Rebels supporters traveling in big numbers. Now if the capacity is capped at a lower number than 27,000 due to COVID this season, it could happen. But I wouldn't consider that a real sellout.

I wouldn't rule out mutual interest between the parties, but I don't foresee that being the final outcome. The UNLV AD job is better than the Nevada AD job, but not that much better.

Wait, you're trying to get me to make sense of lyrics to a song that opens as follows: "In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey ... Butane in my veins and I'm out to cut the junkie ... With the plastic eyeballs, spray-paint the vegetables ... Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose?" But my interpretation of your line is that his girlfriend (aka "baby") is in Reno soaking up the sun, which is the best source of Vitamin D. She's lounging in Reno without him, and he's a loser as a result.

There was no significant rioting outside of the Los Angeles area after the Rodney King verdict came in, and Winnemucca would be one of the last places to riot over something like that. But cool that it got a shoutout in one of the '90s most popular songs.

Damn. You're looking at six All-Star-caliber players in LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Russell Westbrook and Dwight Howard. Four of those players finished top eight in the MVP vote that season (James, Westbrook, Gasol and Davis). Wesley Matthews and Trevor Ariza would have been in their primes. Jared Dudley and Wayne Ellington would have had some value. Just eyeballing it, I'd put that team at 82-0.

Fun fact: Actor Hank Azaria has two rescue cats, one named Mookie and the other name Wilson, after the aforementioned Mookie Wilson because Azaria is a Mets fan. But here are five funny athlete quotes, and we'll stay on the dinosaur theme to start.

Carl Everett: "The Bible never says anything about dinosaurs. You can't say there were dinosaurs when you never saw them. Somebody actually saw Adam and Eve. No one ever saw a Tyrannosaurus Rex." (Oh, Carl.)

Mike Cameron: "The sun has been there for 500, 600 years.” (Or perhaps a little longer than that.)

Tito Fuentes: "They shouldn’t throw at me. I’m the father of five or six kids." (Your number of children should not be guesswork.)

Charles Shackleford: "Left hand, right hand, it doesn't matter. I'm amphibious." (Sounds like Team USA could have used him in the pool in Tokyo.)

Yogi Berra: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." (Especially if it's next to a stack of pancakes.)

I'll take Damonte Ranch to win the North in football, Reno in girls volleyball, Galena in girls soccer and Sparks in boys soccer. At this stage, the NIAA is planning on holding state tournaments, and the North is capable of winning state titles in all of those sports except for football, where the gap has simply been too large the last decade.

I have not seen that movie, but that's one hell of a cast you've got there. That cast also reminds me of the story in which Gwyneth Paltrow admitted she didn't know Samuel L. Jackson played Nick Fury in Avengers despite the two appearing in multiple Marvel movies together when he played that role. You can't make this stuff up.

It's not so early considering there's only about 50 games left in the MLB season. My NL awards would go to Gabe Kapler (manager of the year), Zack Wheeler (Cy Young), Max Muncy (MVP) and Trevor Rogers (rookie of the year), although those last three are wide open. Like you said, manager of the year is locked up.

Thanks, and I've resigned myself to the fact the Giants are going to win the NL West since they seem to play a series with the Diamondbacks every week and have the power to make opposing teams drop game-winning flyballs, which happened Saturday against the Brewers. The Dodgers could very well finish with the second-best record in MLB and have to win a one-game wild-card play-in game to get into the playoffs. Nice postseason system you have there, MLB. Good thing the winner of the NL East, who will probably finish the season five games over .500, will go straight to the NLDS.

Thank you! I'm glad to be in my mid-to-late 30s! (Technically, I'm 39 now, but that qualifies for "mid-to-late 30s.") Since it's my birthday, I'm calling things early today and getting myself a nice chunk of German chocolate cake. 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 write. 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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