BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 01/22/2021

Thiel: Scott picked a good time to bail on Pac-12

Given the pending tumult in big-time college sports, coupled with his history of dubious decisions, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott has taken the hints.

Commissioner Larry Scott did a nice job handing the MVP trophy to Huskies freshman Taylor Rapp after the 2016 Pac-12 Championship. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The final Pac-12 Conference standings for Larry Scott’s tenure as commissioner will show more L’s than W’s. But let’s give him credit for a championship exit. He’s bailing in June, a year ahead of contract expiration, but also ahead of more grimness for big-time college sports.

Scott won’t have to deal with the Power 5 conferences seceding sloppily from the NCAA to form their own minor-league pro football enterprise.

Because universal vaccinations still won’t be complete, nor accepted by a chunk of the population, perhaps including players, he won’t have to deal next fall with the start/stop of another college football season crippled by COVID-19.

Nor will he have to deal with another fiscal year of financial peril in athletic departments that will take many moons to recover from the disaster of empty stadiums and canceled games of 2020 because of the pandemic. Not to mention the longer-term problem of brick-and-mortar universities finding themselves increasingly irrelevant because online degrees are cheaper and easier.

True, he won’t get a chance to re-do the debacle of his creation of the Pac-12 Networks. The regional sports-TV shop wasn’t the worst business idea since sandpaper wiper blades, but it’s in the discussion.

Then again, for a guy getting along on a meager $5.3 million in annual compensation, he can’t expect everything to go his way. Who does he think he is — a big deal?

Yes. Scott always thought he was a bigger deal than he was. That’s why he chartered a private jet to swoop himself around the conference. That’s why he always had the hotel’s biggest suite. That’s why he talked university leaders into a slick new conference headquarters in the heart of San Francisco, despite the $7 million annual lease.

In his words, he thought of the Pac-12 less as a college sports conference and more as “a media company.”

Well, if you’re going to go all Louis Vuitton and Dom Perignon, you better bring home the francs. Scott didn’t.

That a large part of conference’s decision to “part ways” with Scott after 11 years, a decision announced Wednesday night, and overdue for some time.

Even he thought so.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Scott told The Athletic in an interview. “When I finally sat down with our board at our normal time, this happened very quickly and amicably. It’s a good time for the Pac-12 and a good time for me . . . I’ve got a lot of ideas about what I want to do, but nothing specific . . . After 20 years in pro sports and over 10 in college sports without a break, I want to take some time to reflect, transform and grow. I’m in no rush.

“I’m going into this next phase, wanting to take my time and be prepared to be surprised by what the next opportunity might be that excites me.”

After the Pac-12 Networks debacle, you’d think Scott would be done with surprises.

In 2011, Scott looked like a genius when he helped invent the Pac-12 Networks, a set of regional channels wholly owned by the conference, which struck deals with vendors ESPN and FOX for $3 billion in rights fees over 12 years, including telecasts of non-revenue (Olympic) sports. The increase in revenues over such a long time emboldened athletic departments to engage in a pricey arms race for facilities that were financed largely based on future income projections.

Not long thereafter, the other conferences landed better deals by partnering with ESPN and Fox in their conference networks that featured just football and men’s basketball. Scott’s play began to falter when he failed to secure a distribution deal with the huge region’s largest satellite system, DirecTV.

Scott secured distribution fees from many smaller cable outfits, but DirecTV wanted a steeply discounted price, arguing accurately that there was minimal audience for 99 percent of the content beyond football. University presidents thought they were getting a 24/7 cable-TV infomercial for their schools, but when DirecTV told them to drop dead, the Pac-12 was in a low-boil panic. It fell behind, and stayed there, unable to improve its financials until TV agreements expire in 2024.

Cut to the chase: For fiscal year 2019 (pre-pandemic), according to research by USA Today, the Big Ten distributed revenues of $55.6 million to each conference member;  Southeastern Conference $45.3 million; Big 12 $38-42 million; Atlantic Coast $28-34 million, and Pac-12 $32 million.

The huge differential is part of why the Pac-12 has fallen behind competitively in sports results. While it’s true that Pac-12 Networks has accumulated equity value, that doesn’t pay the bills now nor improve future budgets.

Since the Pac-12 Networks deal was struck, 10 of the Pac-12 schools have new presidents/chancellors, most of whom look at the conference financials and ask, how did we get here?

“At the time, we had 100 percent alignment amongst our presidents, athletic directors and us about our objectives,” Scott told The Athletic. “The Pac-12 Networks was largely about giving opportunity and exposure to our Olympic sports that weren’t getting any. It wasn’t about money or distributing football games, which, prior to that, were distributed just on local regional sports networks. But hindsight is awesome.”

True, but if you’re running a media company, it seems prudent for the boss to choose wisely the content that will grow revenues in a competitive marketplace. In fact, he was running a sports conference, and gave in to the “owners.”

Oh, well. Now he no longer has to suffer second-guessers, and is getting out of college football ahead of its pending reformation. Nor does he have put up further with cat-calls over the gruesome quality of conference football officiating, which has generated a perpetual Twitter hashtag to describe anything of enduring badness: #Pac12refs

Giving up the jet just might be worth it.

 


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YourThoughts

  • Alan Harrison

    There’s not a wet eye in the house in Scott’s departure.

    Who knows? The Pac-12’s best bet might be to let the other 4 conferences join their super-duper-league for football (confirming that NCAA football is now like NASCAR – a regional sport). Conversely, if they do join that s-d-l, make sure they’re an equal partner and not the Vanderbilt of the group, only there to prop up graduation rates and supposed geographic diversity.

    • art thiel

      Scott’s successor will have to recognize he or she is Keanu Reeves jumping behind the wheel of a runaway bus with no brakes. Crashes are inevitable, and there’s no guarantee of a Hollywood ending.

  • 1coolguy

    The salary, the jet, the hotel suites, the $7mm office – WTF were the PAC-12 presidents doing through all this? They are as much to blame for Scott’s seedy tenure as he is, as they allowed it for 10 years! Yes there has been turnover among the presidents, yet there was clearly no to little oversight. Shame of each PAC-12 school for allowing this carpet bagger to carry on this way, and for TEN YEARS!

    • Husky73

      You’d think he was the head of the NRA……

      • 1coolguy

        Or better yet and more accurate: Hunter Biden!

        • Husky73

          But, but, but, but, but……..HUNTER!!!!!!!!! Bill Barr gave him a clean bill of health, much like Trey Gowdy gave Hillary.

          • 1coolguy

            You really need to do some reading and turn off CNN – for you to make this statement cancels anything you could ever write about anything. Geeez

          • Husky73

            “There Hunter Biden investigation has been handled responsibly, and there is no need for a special prosecutor.” (Bill Barr, Attorney General)

          • art thiel

            Good research. Something unfamiliar to our correspondent.

    • art thiel

      Interesting that you would use the word shame . . . as if he were grifting his followers.

  • Husky73

    In the same week, Trump was sent to Elba, Larry Scott was canned and the Huskies won a men’s basketball game. In the words of Tom Hanks, “What a week I’m having!”

    • Brent Hannon

      an Elba reference! updated for the 21st century: Elba-a-Largo

      • Kevin Lynch

        Bueno, Brent. My final non-sports comment (seriously!?): Be careful what you wish for with revolutions. Before Napoleon met Elba, following the post-revolution beheadings, ole Louis bled fair France to the bone with his wars and ‘lost the bonny bunch of roses all’.

        • art thiel

          Whoa. Kevin puts his Euro history degree to good use. And it pays off handsomely.

      • art thiel

        +1

    • art thiel

      Congrats. You deserve it.

    • 1coolguy

      Can’t wait to begin posting every time Dead Man Walking Biden screws up! Your jaundiced responses will be so worth it.

      • Husky73

        So far, so good.

  • Hockeypuck

    Larry Scott played PAC-12 presidents for fools in a very public manner, and they just sat there and took it. Hard I suppose, for an oblivious former tennis professional to manage and compete in the rough-and-tumble world of college athletics. I remember famously the story about when ESPN did gameday at Pullman (in November); everyone was staying warm in their pendletons, and there was Larry Scott gallivanting about campus with the ESPN bigwigs in his navy-blue blazer.

    The PAC-12’s real problem in terms of competing on the national stage (athletically and financially i think) is fundamental and cultural. The PAC-12 wanted to proudly display it’s balanced, counter-culture, avant-garde athletics programs – more Saturday afternoon gymnastics, everyone! Problem is no one gives a shit. And have you ever attended a PAC-12 football game outside of Seattle or Eugene? Pick a place – usually 25,000 mostly disinterested fans sitting around waiting for the post-game keggers to begin. College football in the South is a pseudo-religious experience; on the West coast its an afterthought. While I personally enjoy and appreciate the emphasis on women’s athletics (I genuinely think women’s sports are more entertaining than their male counterparts) lets face it – football is the only barometer by which success is measured. And on the West coast (by choice) we (fans) have made our cultural choice that football and big-time intercollegiate athletics are irrelevant. Direct TV figured this out way before a bunch of insular, snobbish, out-of-touch university presidents even had a clue (they were too busy looking at their academic rankings in US News and World Report).

    While the PAC-12 can proudly boast it’s academic superiority vis-a vis any conference outside the Ivy League, from an athletic standpoint it is more Mountain West than SEC. So good luck to the next Larry Scott; while he/she may not perpetuate opulence that Larry Scott so richly deserved and enjoyed, there’s literally no chance that conference will improve its reputation on a national level. It will only get worse.

    And I’m completely okay with that..

    • art thiel

      It’s true that the Pac-12 takes its academic creds seriously, and it takes Olympic sports seriously. I have no problem with either.

      Given those values, the fact that the football programs may be less competitive with the rest of Power 5 is something they will have to work around, or accept. The entire operation of big-boy college sports may soon collapse upon its balsa-wood foundation, anyway. Then we can start over.

  • WestCoastBias79

    I loathe Larry Scott for the state of the conference, from joke officiating, to having to get Sling TV because my cable system doesn’t offer the network, to absurd kickoff times to appease ESPN to get whopping fifth place revenues, but part of me respects him for being able to carry on his grift for as long as he did. Driving a conference into the ground and walking away with $40-$50 million for the trouble is pretty impressive. Who should be beat with hoses are the presidents who enabled this. Even if they were rightfully trying to prioritize academics, screwing up so royally and letting it continue on a major revenue driver, and their main avenue of national exposure, is inexcusable.

    Hopefully they don’t screw up the next hire. The Pac-12 is Power Five in name only. In football they’re somewhere in between the other Power Five and Mountain West with worse officiating. The Denver Post ran a series on the state of Buffaloes football, and the gist seemed to be that they should have stayed in the Big-12. In basketball they’re effectively a mid major. Yay, they’re good in Oympic Sports, but those don’t even pay for themselves. I don’t think that it’s hyperbole to state that this hire will determine whether the Pac-12 survives, or whether the big schools bail.

    • art thiel

      I’m not challenging your observations, but I would add that part of the issue is structural with the Pac-12. The presidents DO care more about Olympic sports, and those athletes are as deserving of resources and respect as the football team. What the presidents don’t get is that they have based much of all athletics funding in the ruthless world of entertainment, which does not aspire to education or any of the lofty goals in the schools’ mission statements. Entertainment enterprises are out to make a buck, period. And there’s little market for volleyball or wrestling.

      Unless they do it naked. That’s how to play the game the schools have chosen.

    • Kirkland

      Suggestion: take up or emphasize other sports in the middle of the financial spectrum between the Power 5 moneymakers and the idealistic but non-income Olympic sports. Lacrosse (particularly in the Mid-Atlantic) and soccer draw well in some schools, rugby could be a growing attraction, and ice hockey especially is a very big deal for the New England and Midwest schools.

      Heck, there’s a new Big 10 hockey conference, combining traditional powers Wisconsin, Minnesota and the two Michigans with newer programs at Ohio State and Penn State, and Notre Dame joined for a seven-team competition. Even more? With COVID restricting interconference play, Big 10 hockey has invited independent program Arizona State — yes, ARIZONA STATE has had D-1 hockey for about six seasons, and they’re pretty good! — as a non-conference opponent each week to avoid its teams racking up byes. If a few more Pac-12 schools can join Arizona State in building 5,000-seat rinks and pumping up local rivalries (USC-UCLA or a hockey Apple Cup would be fun!), that’s another revenue source. ASU is recruiting well because its desert climate attracts a lot of northern and Canadian prospects, I can see the other schools playing that up.

  • Husky73

    So long, Larry. BUT….as an old-schooler, I really don’t care or want the Huskies and the Pac 12 to be “a power conference.” The college football playoffs and championship have no allure for me. “We” are west coast college football. The pinnacle of west coast college football should always be the Rose Bowl game on January 1st against the Big 10 (not 14) champion.

    • art thiel

      Don’t forget your Farrah Fawcett poster.

      The Power 5 as a concept is a pure business construct that is a transition step away from the NCAA and into its own entertainment world of paid professional athletes who merely pass through campus on the way to the field. You’re not going to like this at all.

      • Husky73

        I liked Farrah. Unfortunately, she died a terrible death.

    • Morgan Dalton

      Get $192 p/hour from Google!…(a740) Yes this is Authentic since I just got my first payout of $24413 and this was just of a one week… I have also purchased my McLaren Speedtail right after this payout…(a740) It is really great job I have ever had and you won’t for-give yourself if you do not check it >>>> http://x2a.me/zfMeQ ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Here one that might qualify with the Firebird, Royal, et. I am a pianist and get plenty irritated when somebody asks “do you play acoustic piano?” Moving on:

      Eject the AZ schools plus Colorado and Utah. Go back to the Pac-8. Keep the revenue within the 8. Sorry, pretenders.
      And 100% agree on the Rose Bowl. I think they were the last to take any corporate anything and I threw up when I think it was John Hancock or somebody who butted in and sponsored. Or maybe Sony or Citi Bank —- or the worst in Louisiana–the Poulan Weedeater Bowl.

      Pac-8. Rose Bowl. Jan 01. Big 10. I’m in.

      • Husky73

        Spumoni, I can only refer us to Brian Wilson’s lament on the great Pet Sounds album…”I guess I just wasn’t made for these times….”

      • art thiel

        You may as well ask for the return of steroids and helmet-to-helmet hits. Progress goes in one direction, however uncomfortable parts of it may be for many.

      • Kirkland

        As someone who was a kid in the Midwest, I can emphasize. I began to sense things were changing for the worse when non-Midwest Penn State was welcomed in (and they didn’t upgrade the number to 11). Nebraska I can get adding because it’s a Midwestern state, but Maryland and Rutgers? Come on.

        Re: the Pac-10 and this if-I-were-kingmaker idealism, I think UNLV and Fresno St. might have been better fits for expansion. Besides geographical consistency, UNLV certainly would’ve added to the conference’s basketball cred like Florida State added to the ACC’s (non-Clemson) football cred, and both schools have had respectable football histories that could’ve meshed well with the current members.

      • Bernice Hernandez

        Get $192 p/hour from Google!…(a1196) Yes this is Authentic since I just got my first payout of $24413 and this was just of a one week… I have also purchased my McLaren Speedtail right after this payout…(a1196) It is really great job I have ever had and you won’t for-give yourself if you do not check it >>>> http://www.Belifestyles.com ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤