Incoming UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois has spent nearly 20 years as a college athletics administrator, including at such high-level universities as Virginia Tech University and the University of Tennessee.
But one of the key attributes that make her a promising addition to UNLV’s leadership team has nothing to do with athletic competition.
It’s her experience as an attorney.
Reed-Francois’ Juris Doctor degree from the University of Arizona and the two years she spent litigating cases in the San Francisco Bay area will make her a valuable asset for the athletic department for a variety of reasons, including a complex legal matter that’s right around the corner.
“In the next couple of months, we’ve got to negotiate a lease and a shared-use agreement with the (Las Vegas) Stadium Authority Board and the NFL and the Raiders,” UNLV President Len Jessup said. “And we’ll be working together with the folks on the Stadium Authority Board to attract unprecedented events and to negotiate them to come to Las Vegas and play at the stadium or maybe over at Thomas & Mack Center.”
A bit further down the road, UNLV hopes to leave the Mountain West for a “Power Five” conference, which also will result in a flurry of legal negotiations.
Throw in the garden-variety legal matters that athletic departments contend with routinely — contracts with coaches, apparel companies and vendors, Title IX issues, NCAA compliance matters, personnel issues, etc. — and it makes sense to have a lawyer at the head of an athletic department.
Reed-Francois is no stranger to the types of negotiations she’ll soon be dealing with when her contract begins on June 1.
At the University of Cincinnati, she was part of an executive team that negotiated the university’s contract with the Cincinnati Bengals for use of Paul Brown Stadium while the Bearcats’ stadium was being renovated. Before that, she served as a legal associate for the Oakland Raiders and the NFL’s Management Council.
Reed-Francois says she’ll keep the department’s general counsel on speed dial, which is smart, but her sensibilities and training will put UNLV in a strong position at the negotiating table. Her experience in employment litigation will be valuable in her day-to-day oversight of the department, its coaches and UNLV’s student-athletes.
“Employment litigation is about people,” she said. “And coming from that background and also as a law professor, sometimes it helps you think of the ‘why’ of what you’re doing.”
Reed-Francois, a rower at UCLA, says she’s still competitive and is driven to steer UNLV to greater success.
She’s got a challenge on her hands given that the once-dominant Rebel men’s basketball team finished last in the Mountain West last year and the football team is coming off back-to-back losing seasons that ended with a humiliating loss to UNR at home. The athletic department ran a $5 million deficit last year as crowds at the Thomas & Mack Center dwindled to only a few thousand per game by the end of last season.
But Reed-Francois’ legal and athletic experience should give fans reason for hope.