Larry Scott and the Pac-12’s Problems

Darren Perkins Editorials

In defense of Pac-12 Commisioner Larry Scott, he did start his tenure with guns blazing. He successfully re-branded the conference, inked a big, fat television deal, and made a bold attempt at stealing away the top Big 12 schools. He corrected several things that were long overdue for a conference that was falling behind the times under former commissioner Tom Hansen.

In other words, in 2009, he was exactly what the Pac-12 needed.

Hansen had been a faithful commissioner, but his time had passed. Running the conference with a “mom and pop” model had left the Pac-10 at least a decade behind the other conferences. Fundamentally basic principles such as “branding” the conference — think Pac-12 logos on uniforms and playing fields — were absent.

Larry Scott did well in his re-branding of the Pac-12 starting in 2009.

Scott’s fat-city address conference headquarters approach in expensive downtown San Francisco was a “dress for success” approach met with little opposition at the time. It seemed fresh, hip, and modern. But, the life that was injected into the conference at the beginning of his time as commissioner has run its course, and it’s now time to re-direct the conference out of its current state of once again falling behind.

Scott had brought the conference up to speed early on, but it seems he has “over-corrected” the Pac-12. As outlined in the previous article here, the Pac-12 has a money problem. Perhaps he out-smarted himself by thinking too far ahead. Scott holds onto the ideal that the Pac-12 is ahead of its competitors by being the only collegiate conference to wholly own and operate its own media platform. But the distribution hasn’t been there, which means the money hasn’t been there.

It appears the cart has been put in front of the horse.

The Pac-12 CEO Group (The University Presidents)

If you’re a rock star CEO for a private company and your company is raking in the profits, then go ahead and treat yourself to everything “champagne.” But when you’re dealing with college and state entities dependent upon state funds and donations, you have to cut out unnecessary expenses — even when you’re doing well — and especially when you’re not.

This isn’t to say he shouldn’t be compensated handsomely; he’s earned his success, but when doing work for educational institutions, there does need to be a sense of benevolence matched with a stern eye on expenditures. Gordon Gekkos of the world need not apply.

If you don’t hold these characteristics, then resign and get a gig in the private sector. If the board of directors buy into your extravagance, good for you — the little guy won’t get hurt. Oh, but wait, in the private sector that same board a directors holds you responsible for poor job performance. Never mind.

Which leads us to … The Pac-12 CEO Group.

The school presidents need to hold Scott accountable. To be fair to Scott, when he negotiated the last television contract with all its late start times and lack of Pac-12 exposure, he was told by his bosses to get the most money he could with no regard to schedules, kick-off times, or fan satisfaction.

This essentially turned into a deal where the networks gave maximum dollar in exchange to dictate all the terms. Networks care about ratings, not Pac-12 fans. Hence, the late kick-offs and the often-frustrating practice of not knowing when your team plays until the week of the game.

Autzen Stadium was electric when hosting the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Hindsight is always 20/20, so it’s easy now for all of us to say it would have been better to forgo some money for more control of scheduling, but most of us at the time were happy with the money. Lesson learned. What the fans need from Scott now is a strong statement of leadership and reassurance from that the next television contract will strongly consider fan interest, and that he is working on solutions to the conference’s current problems.

That statement has yet to come, and the presidents don’t seem to care.

Tone Deaf, Example 1: The Pac-12 Championship Game

Anybody with any knowledge of the Pac-10/12 could have told you that having the championship game at a neutral site, particularly the Bay Area, would be a horrible idea (this, in contrast, is not an example of hindsight being 20/20). You’ll have a stadium less than half-full, it will have the atmosphere of a 4th-tier bowl game in mid-December, and it will be humiliating for the conference.

Seems everyone knew this, except for Pac-12 Headquarters.

Perhaps playing on college campuses looks small time compared to playing in a pro stadium — most colleges have less on-site media avenues and luxuries to generate maximum revenue. But, with empty seats and an atmosphere that makes a graveyard look lively, protecting the Pac-12 brand far outweighs any relatively small revenue issues of having the game on campus.

After watching this year’s 10-3 snooze fest — which was not an example of two great defenses, but rather two merely above-average teams playing bad football — the Pac-12 could not have looked more pathetic.

Tone Deaf, Example 2: The Coaching Deficit

The Pac-12 ranks last among Power 5 conferences in average coaching salaries.

Money is king in the college coaching circuit; potential head coaches almost always accept the job that pays more money. In an exception to the rule, Chip Kelly turned down $6 million a year from Florida for $4.78 million to coach at UCLA. Almost every coaching candidate would have taken the Florida job, not only for the money, but it’s just a better job than the ever-underachieving Bruins.

Chip chose UCLA because he likes the west coast, not the Pac-12.

Scott spun the Kelly hire as proof of the superior nature of the Pac-12 — that things are so great in Pac-12 land that coaches will even work here for less money. The truth is Kelly just wanted to live on the west coast, which just happens to be where the Pac-12 is located. That’s called luck.

Chris Petersen is another example of where money won’t win him over. He’s a west coast guy, specifically a northwest guy. If he were a money-first guy, even as the highest-paid Pac-12 coach, he’d be in another conference.

The idea that the Pac-12 could win a bidding war for the next Urban Meyer or Nick Saban — ya know, the type that actually wins national championships — is foolish thinking.

The Pac-12’s two highest-profile coaches are here because of their own personal life-style choice, and nothing more.

The Solution

Life 101: “Maximize doing good, minimize discontent.”

At the risk of sounding like I’m blowing fairy dust all along the Pacific coastline; by doing good in putting the fans first you can bet that higher television ratings, higher attendance figures, higher season-ticket sales, higher donations, and increased overall fan engagement will follow. This of course will lead to more revenue and a better product on the field.

It’s a win-win. Do what the people want and the money will follow; do what greed wants and pay the consequences.

We’re left coasters, we live in large metropolitan areas, and football is not our religion. We’re smart, savvy, caring, “forward-thinking,” and cerebral. From Hollywood to Silicon Valley to Microsoft Headquarters, let’s take these attributes and show that bigger isn’t better (as in giant stadiums and Texas), but better is better.

Time to take these attributes and make the Pac-12 better. You with us, Larry?

Darren Perkins
Spokane, WA

Top Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo


Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.


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