Few people have experienced the breadth of college athletics like Tina Kunzer-Murphy. The Las Vegas native and Valley High School alum played tennis and volleyball at UNLV, coached the university’s women’s tennis team, directed its cheerleading program and worked in administrative capacities within the athletic program, including the Rebel Football Foundation and the Women’s Sports Foundation. In 1999, she was hired to run ESPN’s regional office at UNLV, and the following year was named executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl (now Maaco Bowl Las Vegas), only the second woman in the nation to fill such a post. However, for the first time in a dozen years, Kunzer-Murphy won’t be presenting the winner’s trophy Dec. 22 when Washington meets Boise State at Sam Boyd Stadium, having resigned her position on Aug. 8 (this after also stepping down as the first female head of the Football Bowl Association). Now exploring her career options, don’t be surprised to see the 2007 Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame inductee resurface in a new capacity at UNLV.
Why did you choose to resign from the bowl?
The last two years have been a very trying time in the football bowl world. When I stepped into the chairmanship [of the Football Bowl Association] two years ago, the Fiesta Bowl [financial scandal] broke nationally the next week, and we found ourselves having to defend our system every step of the way. So many things were going against the BCS [Bowl Championship Series]—the Death to the BCS book came out—and all of that stuff reflected on all of the bowls. And as I look back, I was really just tired of it. I had two really great years, but I also had two really tough years defending what I felt was the integrity of what we did.
Did you encounter many obstacles being a woman in a male-oriented industry?
All the time, but that’s part of the deal. When you’re in college athletics, and especially in college football, it’s very traditional. As my husband, who’s an ex-football coach, says it’s the one area that us women haven’t broken into yet—and [the men] like it that way. But, you know, it’s 2012, fellas. Being a college athlete, being a college coach, being a college administrator, I got to see it firsthand. There were some bowl directors who, after I would [suggest] something, 15 minutes later they would say [the same thing], and that was the greatest idea in the world. But that’s just life.
Even though the Maaco Bowl isn’t part of the BCS, you don’t support a playoff system in college football. Why?
We fought so hard against the playoff, and now we’re just singing its praises, because that’s what the public and the media wanted. Now even every bowl director is saying that’s the greatest thing for us. For the two years I was with the Football Bowl Association, all we heard was, “If we go to a playoff, it would be the demise of the bowls.” Is it going to eliminate them? No, but it will greatly diminish the bowls’ presence in postseason play. … You’re going to see that playoff grow and grow, and it’s not going to include every [bowl]. And those who aren’t included are going to be left in the cold.
What do you make of all the conference reshuffling?
It’s total arrogance, and it’s all about money, specifically TV money, and we all know that. Those traditional rivalries that existed for years and years that have been broken up—how sad is that? And the fact that San Diego State is going to the Big East, to me that’s the most ridiculous thing ever. I understand it, but it’s sad. The big conferences have been running things this whole time, and they’re just going to get stronger. But it’s a business, and those of us who have worked in college athletics and in college football realize that the only way you’re going to manage today’s programs is by having a lot of money.
Can our local bowl game continue to grow without a new football stadium?
First of all, Sam Boyd Stadium has been good for our bowl game, because it’s not very big. But when it fills up, we’ve had the restrooms back up; we’ve had the lights flicker. It’s not built for [40,000] people, so the infrastructure just doesn’t work. I’m really proud of what we did for the city, but unless we get a new stadium it’s going to be very tough to [continue] what we have done.
Luckily, for six out of the last seven years we were sold out. We transformed Sam Boyd Stadium from kind of a hapless-looking place, dolling it up, putting on some lipstick, and it looked pretty good with a full crowd. But anybody who’s around college football understands the importance of building an on-campus stadium, and the UNLV Now project is going to be the biggest game-changer in UNLV’s history if it happens. It could transform the whole university.
You’ve previously expressed interest in becoming UNLV’s athletic director. Is that a position you still desire?
Absolutely, although UNLV has an athletic director, and I would never talk about somebody else’s job; I know what it’s like when somebody wants your job and talks about it. It’s not a fun position to be in. It’s important that I get back on a campus first and get a feel again for being in that environment. For the past 15 years I’ve worked closely with football coaches, athletic directors, conference commissioners and the NCAA, and knowing that it is a business has helped me to cultivate what I want to do. “Yes” is the answer when that time strikes, but right now I’m just ready to go back and make a difference somewhere.
What do you see as your legacy in Southern Nevada?
That you can do anything you want to do. My father was a butcher, my mother was a waitress, and they had fifth- and eighth-grade educations. You can do whatever you want to do as long as you are true to yourself and don’t try to be anybody you’re not. And I never have. I sometimes talk way too dirty and I laugh too loud, but I like to have fun, and I like to work hard. But you can’t do it by yourself. I’ve had so many great friends and been associated with so many great people. I’ve been very, very lucky, and I don’t take anything for granted.