NSHE successfully approves institute status for UNLV Sports Innovation program


An Institute is Born

During the Nov. 30 board meeting, the Nevada System of Higher Education voted to officially recognize the UNLV Sports Innovation program as an institution. The vote follows the program’s continued expansion into local sports initiatives, designed to complement the rapid expansion of sports in the Las Vegas Valley. The program, outlined to provide a hub for opportunity and innovation to students, boasts various local partnerships for students to connect with and gain practical experience. 

The institute’s growth, expansion, and recognition was aided with $3.25 million in federal funding secured by Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., citing that the use of such funds would place “UNLV as a standing leader in sports research and innovation.”

Although the UNLV Sports Innovation Institute was officially designated as an Institute in Fall 2024, the foundation of an interdisciplinary sport-focused unit has been built since the early 2000s. UNLV has a historical foundation of preparing students for sports employment opportunities via specific degree programs, such as the Intercollegiate Professional Sport Management program undergraduate and graduate degrees in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition Sciences. But the depth and breadth of sport-related educational activities as well as sport-related research has grown tremendously here at UNLV over the past 20 years. A campus-wide survey was conducted about five years ago to determine the extent of sport-related teaching and research being conducted here at UNLV. It was determined that every school/college had some faculty involved in some capacity of sport teaching and/or research.

Recognizing that there was no central location at UNLV explicitly capable of connecting the faculty and different units, Drs. John Mercer and Nancy Lough worked with administration to form the framework of what is now known as the UNLV Sports Innovation Institute. With some initial funding from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Jay Vickers was recruited to join the team as Chief Operating Officer. Together, this team worked to deepen the sport-related connections across campus as well as with the Greater Las Vegas sports economy.

“To be formally recognized as an institute, we first had to demonstrate our sustainability and that our mission and initiatives positively impacted UNLV. We then had to submit an application to the Provost’s Office and ultimately receive approval from NSHE,” said Vickers, Chief Operating Officer of the UNLV Sports Innovation Institute. 

“Receiving a State Appropriations Award from Representative Susie Lee contributed to our initial success. We have now been recognized as a hub of engagement and we are committed to maintaining that excellence in all that we do.”

Innovation in Southern Nevada

Over a short period of time, Las Vegas has seen a significant expansion in its sports landscape. The city has welcomed professional teams across various sports including the NHL, NFL, WNBA, NLL and USL. This growth is further exemplified by Las Vegas hosting an array of high-profile events such as the NFL Super Bowl, Formula 1 race, NBA Summer League, NASCAR events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the National Finals Rodeo, multiple NCAA basketball tournaments, and, more recently, the NFL Draft and Pro Bowl among others.

The UNLV Sports Innovation Institute (USII) aims to be a central hub of both innovation and research. By leveraging community engagement and educational resources, the USII hopes to increase interest and participation in Las Vegas’ ever-growing sports industry. The institute is focused on 13 proposed pillars, including first responder health, sports psychology and digital sports. The institute hopes to redefine the scope in which sports is defined, along with studying sub-topics that pertain to the success of athletes on the field, ice, octagon, court or track. 

The interest in a wide range of subtopics and research has garnered the support of the Raiders, Golden Knights and Aces. UFC has also allowed the USII to hold its Sports Research Summit at its Apex Center, located along I-215 in the southwest valley.

“UNLV Sports Innovation Institute was originally the Sports Research and Innovation Initiative. It was funded by GOED’s Knowledge Fund to be the epicenter of the sports economy’s engagement with UNLV in education, innovation, research and economic development,” Vickers stated. 

“The goal of the Institute is to be a nationally recognized hub that engages with the sports industry in mutually beneficial collaborations to provide cutting-edge solutions to unique challenges and drive the future of sport. Additionally, we aim to be a leader in training the next generation of sport scientists and sport business professionals through interdisciplinary education and hands-on applied research.”

Super Bowl LVII Internships

The current reigning achievement of the USII has been the USI Sports Internship program. In partnership with the Las Vegas Super Bowl Host COmmittee, NFL Foundation and United Way of Southern Nevada, USII integrated 43 UNLV students into internships that would be instrumental in ensuring Super Bowl LVIII, held at Allegiant Stadium, would be successful. The internship program hired students from various backgrounds like hospitality, business, graphic design, photography, journalism, and more. 

“I had a conversation with Sam Joffray, President and CEO of the Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee. Given that two-thirds of our student population come from non-traditional, first-generation backgrounds, I wanted to ensure they had the opportunity to participate in a program they might otherwise miss out on, was it not fully paid,” Vickers asserted. 

“With the generous support of United Way of Southern Nevada and the NFL Foundation, we were able to make that happen.”

Steps Forward

The USII hopes to continue the current streak of student opportunities and success, with dynamic events and conferences. The upcoming SEI-Con is the next big event on the USII’s checklist, with the event centered on advancing sports innovation and education.

Recently, the UNLV Sports Innovation Institute launched an Affiliate Program to officially recognize faculty and industry partners who are connected to sport research, education and innovation in some capacity. Additionally, the Institute is close to launching a mobile lab known as the SPEED Lab (Sports Performance, Education, and Economic Development) that will build a stronger connection between UNLV and the surrounding community by offering educational experiences as well as research opportunities to a wide variety of socioeconomic and geographical areas and community members.

“What we’re most excited about right now is SEICon, happening this July at Virgin Hotels. We’ve partnered with Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport & Human Dynamics and Circle to put on a first-of-its-kind Sports, Entertainment, and Innovation conference,” Vickers exclaimed.

“We’re also looking at unique ways to expand our sports industry partnerships to ensure our students are top of mind for internships and full-time roles as they enter the workforce. A dynamic sports ecosystem has manifested itself here in Southern Nevada, and we want to make sure our students are part of it,” Vickers concluded.

Editor’s Note: The Scarlet & Gray Free Press & USII work closely to promote student innovation and success. This article was originally going to be published on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023; however, the tragic events of December 6th placed heavy delays on its publication.


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