Larry Scott’s volatile 11-year tenure as Pac-12 commissioner is in its final month. The conference announced in January he would be stepping down June 30.
He came to the then-Pac-10 from the Women’s Tennis Association as an outsider to college sports and led a vital transformation of the conference with expansion from 10 to 12 members and a record-setting, billion-dollar media rights deal. But the Pac-12 also struggled to keep up with some of its Power Five conference peers in high-profile sports — most notably football —- and in revenue generation for its members during Scott’s time.
Scott spoke to The Associated Press on Monday in a 25-minute telephone interview about his time with the Pac-12. Some of his answers are below:
Q: When you look back on the goals laid out when you took the job, where do you see missions accomplished?
Scott: I’m proud of much of what our team’s accomplished. There was a lot of alignment around a bold and innovative agenda when I arrived in 2009 and at the highest level, we’ve modernized the league, which is now operating at a much higher level than where it was before.
Highlights include a five-fold increase in revenue; significant improvements in student-athlete welfare and involvement; expansion of the conference; creation of our own media company, which is well-positioned for the future as evidenced by very high valuations we’ve received from private equity firms and interest from companies like Apple and Amazon; modernization of our championships in Las Vegas; and other things.
Q: The flip side of that is where do you see failures or goals left unaccomplished?”
Scott: The biggest regret is that we didn’t have teams performing better in football during our 11 years. Certainly, we’ve got some brands that traditionally would be making the College Football Playoff and competing for a national championship. It didn’t happen. For a variety of reasons. Thankfully, it has happened in our other sports where we won more championships than any other conference every year, including what was the best overall conference in basketball, men’s and women’s, this year. But competitively, teams not reaching their traditional potential was a real regret.
Secondly, hindsight is 20/20, but I didn’t anticipate the amount of change amongst our leadership, presidents, chancellors and athletics directors that were really aligned about a long-term vision. And as we had change in leadership on our campuses, the focus became much more on short-term pressures.
And in hindsight, if we had done shorter TV deals, even if it meant leaving some money on the table, I think our members would have appreciated being able to redo our TV contracts a little bit sooner. But I think the long-term, bold nature of our strategy will pay off handsomely for the league when it re-does the deals in 2024.
Q: Do you feel as if you should have publicly advocated for expansion of College Football Playoff sooner and more aggressively?
Scott: It’s always tempting to grandstand and say things just for the benefit of fans. But I take seriously my responsibility being on the board for the College Football Playoff.
It’s never been my view that as a board member and a person responsible for decisions, you should be sharing details of what you discuss internally with the media and the public, when you agree with your colleagues you’re not going to. So I know fans across the country can be frustrated they don’t see more posturing about playoff expansion, but everyone that’s been involved knows the strong advocacy I’ve played for us to consider it. And we are considering.
Q: Was the Pac-12’s decision to go it alone on its conference networks — and not have a established network partner the way the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference do — a mistake?
Scott: I think short term it’s been challenging in many respects. Long term, I think it will prove to have been a great decision for the league and that will be coming down in 2024. We’ve received very, very significant offers from private equity companies. We’ve brought Apple and Amazon to the table and we will have more valuable rights coming to the market than other leagues that partnered with outsiders who are going to have to wait until the 2030s. So not not to minimize some of the challenges of tougher distribution when you’re don’t have the leverage, being an outside media company. The creation of the Pac-12 Network was the number one mission based to provide exposure for Olympic sports. And we’ve done that more than any other alternative. And secondly, to preserve the long-term value in an industry that’s rapidly changing and moving more and more to digital and direct to consumer. The Pac-12 is the best positioned of all the conferences to take advantage of those trends in 2024. So I think it’s too early to create the scorecard, but I look forward to seeing how people feel about it in 2024 when the Pac-12 is able to do its next deals, which I think will be outstanding.
Q: You have been criticized for the shortcomings of the Pac-12 Network, along with moving the league offices to a pricey San Francisco space and your own salary, which surpassed $5 million annually. In what ways was the criticism you received unfair?
Scott: When I was hired it was very much with a vision to professionalize the leadership management operations of the league and run it more like a business than it was before on many, many levels. I think we’ve accomplished that. But leadership comes with criticism, and especially if you’re going to take bold swings and do things differently than others. And that’s certainly happened. And also, I’ve never been afraid to take risks. That’s what the group that hired me was looking for. Some things worked out better than anyone could have hoped for, like in our TV deal, which was the biggest in college sports history, and other things didn’t perform as well as people would have hoped.
But the idea of the Pac-12 needing to box above its weight level, we absolutely have. When you look at our fanbase, the passion of the fans, the time zone challenges, there’s no doubt the Pac-12 has closed the gap in most respects and is boxing above its weight level. Whereas, people would not have said that about the Pac-12 in 2009.
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