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With Larry Scott leading the way, the Pac-12 is on the move.
by Brett McMurphy
Larry Scott took the helm as commissioner of the Pac-10 on July 1, 2009. A few weeks later he was asked about Pac-10 expansion and said it was “not a topic that has come up in any serious way.”
Not even a year later, Scott was leading an expansion charge out west, attempting to swoop in and snag half of the Big 12, led by the biggest bell cow, uh, steer, in Texas. Even though “Texas politics” killed his plan to add Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Scott was able to bring on Colorado and Utah.
If there was any doubt before, there certainly isn’t now: This is not your grandfather’s Pac-10, and Scott is not your typical conference commissioner.
The 46-year-old Scott replaced former commissioner Tom Hansen, who directed the league for 26 years. During Hansen’s tenure, the Pac-10 had become, to be polite, stagnant. To put it in perspective: The last time the conference had expanded was in 1978, five year’s before Hansen’s arrival.
That glacial pace changed the instant Scott was named the league’s commissioner.
Before joining the Pac-10, Scott spent the previous six years as president and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association. During his tenure, he elevated women’s prize money to an equal footing with the men in the four Grand Slam events and landed an $88 million sponsorship deal with Sony Ericsson, helping increase revenue by 75 percent.
Scott initially thought that a job heading one of the six BCS conferences was “completely at the opposite end of the spectrum from being the head of a global professional sport.” However, the more Scott looked at it, the more similarities he discovered.
“I saw an opportunity to bring my pro sports background to the intercollegiate sports space,” he says.
Now entering his third year, Scott has orchestrated a re-branding of the league by focusing on innovation. The Pac-12’s new logo features mountains — a nod to Colorado and Utah — and a wave representing the Pacific Ocean.
Besides adding the league’s first new members in more than 30 years, Scott also flew the league’s 10 football coaches (and their wives) as well as assorted conference officials across the country last season for a conference media day in New York. Start spreading the news: They also play football out west. Perhaps it was strictly a coincidence, but last season marked the first time since 2003 that the Pac-10 received two BCS bowl berths.
A former Harvard tennis captain who was the president and COO of ATP Properties, a division of the men’s professional tennis tour, by the age of 30, Scott is proud that his conference has “laid out a vision for the future that we hope will materialize at some stage.” And Scott is the unquestioned leader of the movement.
While Scott has shaken up the Pac-10, he also nearly changed the entire landscape of college athletics with his run at Texas. Reflecting on why he didn’t succeed, Scott says “Texas politics” and not Texas’ plan to start its own television network was what killed the deal.
Scott may not have been able to hook the Horns, but he’s still driven to increase the Pac-12’s profile. He has sold the league’s athletic directors on allowing more Thursday and Friday night football games to give the conference more national exposure. Also, in case there is no NFL this fall, he says his league will consider moving some games to Sundays for television purposes.
He’s not only looking to bolster the league’s image nationally, but also internationally. Scott is exploring the possibility of televising Pac-12 sporting events on Chinese television, in what he considers untapped markets. Scott is very familiar with those markets from his days working in professional tennis. “I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think that five years from now, you’ll see (Pac-12) teams competing in Asia, hosting teams over here and the brand of the (Pac-12) starting to build over there and exposed on TV,” Scott told SI.com. “That’s going to provide some great opportunity for student-athletes.”
He also believes it could help pave the way for more academic collaboration between Pac-12 schools and Asian universities.
Before taking over Asia, Scott had a bigger priority — addressing the league’s television package. He noted during the 2010 season that his league was “fifth among the BCS conferences right now in TV revenue, and that’s not satisfactory to our leadership.”
Well, that changed drastically in early May, when the Pac-12 agreed to a media deal with ESPN and Fox that is worth $3 billion over 12 years. Each of the 12 schools will receive approximately $20 million per year from the new deal — more than each member of the powerful SEC received in 2009-10.
Scott says the league remains committed to launching the Pac-12’s own television network and has been working with Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency to develop the network. The Pac-12 network would be similar to the Big Ten Network, in that it would air non-marquee home football games, men’s and women’s basketball and Olympic sports. The marquee football games would be reserved for its broadcast partners.
The inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game will rotate between Fox and ESPN, with the inaugural game being shown this season on Fox. Even though the Pac-12 had interest from Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle and Las Vegas to host the Pac-12 title game, the league opted to play it at the home of the division champion with the best record. This is a change of philosophy from the other BCS conference title games held by the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 (when it had a title game), played at neutral sites.
“We get the kind of atmosphere we want in a home venue,” Scott says. “We know it will be electric, it will be collegiate, not a corporate atmosphere, which will project well on television.”
Another change is that for the first time, the league partnered with YouTube to provide live streaming video from the Pacific Life Pac-10 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and also the postgame press conferences for the semifinals and championships for both the men’s and women’s tournaments.
Whether it’s flying his football coaches cross-country to New York to promote the league or hooking up with former business partners from his days in tennis to build a following in China, Scott is determined to make the Pac-12 like no other league. And all indications are he will be successful.
In October when Scott announced the Pac-12 divisions — the North is Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State; with the South made up of UCLA, USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah — he acknowledged that, “it was a pretty dramatic change for the conference, and change requires some give and take.”
So, is there a Pac-16 in the near future?
“I’m laser focused on making the Pac-12 as the preeminent conference in the country as 12,” Scott says. “I still believe, however, that someday we are going to see further consolidation in college sports and we will see a move to the superconference.
“My job and our conference’s focus is being the strongest possible conference out there … being a place that is coveted, so if and when dominos start to fall again, we’ll be very well positioned.”
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