The day Pac-12 fans have been praying for has finally come. What does this mean for the conference moving forward?
A conference that has been on a steady decline in relevance over the last 10 years can finally say that they’re on track to dig themselves out of the hole they are currently in. On Jan. 20, it was announced that Larry Scott’s 11-year run as Pac-12 commissioner would come to an end this upcoming June.
There are few positive things I could say about Scott’s tenure as commissioner as he quickly became a joke to Pac-12 fans everywhere. In almost every game you could hear the crowd chant “Fire Larry” at some point, and it was well deserved.
Scott’s first few years as commissioner gave fans and university presidents hope moving forward that this would be a good hire. He was able to strike a television deal with FOX and ESPN that, at the time, was the largest of any other conference. He also expanded the conference to 12 teams by adding Colorado and Utah while simultaneously creating the Pac-12 television network.
However, there was a lot of bad mixed with the good and people were already questioning some of the decisions Scott was making as the conference’s leader.
One of the most questionable decisions he made was choosing downtown San Francisco as the location of the conference’s headquarters. This past year, it cost the conference $6.9 million in rent with $11.7 million in deferred rent, making it by far the most expensive conference headquarters in the NCAA. It seemed as if Scott’s motives were tailored to himself being close to his San Francisco estate as well as the tech companies he has relationships with.
On top of this, Scott’s salary is the second highest of conference commissioners at $5.4 million with an additional $1.9 million loan from the conference. What is the loan for? No one actually knows.
These and many other factors have affected the conference competitively and financially that now leaves them in a deep hole that will be very hard to get out of in the near future. Thankfully, it is not impossible. So what will need to happen to bring the conference back to national relevance?
The first step, that has already been taken care of, was to find new leadership. The conference has not started an official search yet but the names of possible replacements have been ones I like hearing that include Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.
The number one focus of the new commissioner has to be football. Football is by far the biggest revenue generator of NCAA athletics and helps fund other college sports. Having a strong football reputation can bring any school’s relevance to a national level.
Since the expansion of the college football playoff in 2014, the Pac-12 has only had two representatives, none of which went on to win a national championship. The last Pac-12 representative came in 2016 when Washington was selected to take part.
The conference has become an afterthought in the college football landscape, additionally, how this past season was run did not help at all. Scott went back and forth between starting the season and postponing it and at one point believed that a spring season would be the best option during the pandemic.
They ended up starting the season on Nov. 7, leaving room for only six games with no bye weeks in between for the possible scheduling of makeup games due to COVID related cancellations. This almost certainly gave no team a chance to make the playoffs.
Following the conclusion of the regular season, Washington and USC were left standing as the winners of their respective divisions. However, Washington was hit with a wave of positive COVID cases that forced them to back out of the Pac-12 championship game. The conference’s answer was to give the spot to Oregon who finished second in the conference but had lost to two unranked opponents the two weeks before.
USC was the lone undefeated team left and was put in a spot where they, at one point, were having to prepare for three possible opponents in the championship game. Oregon ended up being the chosen opponent by the conference when they were coming off a bye week while USC would be playing on a short week after a Sunday matchup with UCLA. Oregon went on to upset USC and was declared the conference “champion” to eventually be throttled by Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl.
This sequence of events summed up Scott’s time as a commissioner and paved the way for new leadership to be chosen in the following months.
The conference is not doomed. It has so much potential to be one of the premier conferences in the country with academically strong schools, large booming cities, great weather and presidents committed to social change for the good and betterment of the athletes that represent their universities.
The biggest moment for the conference will be before the 2024 season, where they will be due for a new television rights agreement. This is where the most money comes from that can be distributed to the schools to help better their programs. A good and positive deal here can set the conference up for success moving forward.