Scott dials up Pac-12s winning formula
Commissioner wants league play to match up to national 'brand'
Since Larry Scott took over as Pac-10 commissioner in July 2009, he has - in hearts parlance - shot the moon, and then some.
In two years, Scott, 47, has added two member schools to make it the Pac-12, forged a 12-year, $3 billion television contract with ESPN and Fox, and put together a Pac-12 TV network that will include a national and six regional packages and will ensure that every football and men's basketball game is televised.
The former executive director of the Women's Tennis Association has increased both the conference's profile and its moneymaking potential, much to the delight of nearly everyone affiliated with the member schools.
Scott recently took time for an interview with the Portland Tribune:
Tribune: Two years into the job, how do you feel about what you've accomplished?
Scott: I'm thrilled with the way it's going. So far, we've been able to achieve or exceed all the expectations I had when I came into this role. The conference is in the process of transformation, a big milestone. With the TV arrangements and what that means in terms of money, exposure and positioning, we're on track and energized about the future.
Tribune: One of your goals was to broaden the horizons and increase the national reputation of the conference. Have you done that?
Scott: I don't consider it mission accomplished, but we're making good progress. The efforts we've made to get our football coaches back east (for preseason media events in New York City and Bristol, Conn.) have opened people's eyes a little bit and given some impetus to the conference it didn't have before. We're one of the elite conferences right now, and people are paying more attention. I look forward to the TV packages completely changing the landscape in the exposure we'll get. We've put together some building blocks, but it's a work in progress.
Tribune: The Pac-12 Network, which launches in 2012, will feature a national network and six regional networks covering Oregon, Washington, Northern California, Southern California, Arizona and Utah/Colorado. What will be the biggest benefits?
Scott: I'm most excited about what it's going to mean for fans, with every football and men's basketball game on ESPN, Fox or the Pac-12 Network. For the Olympic sports, we'll have a level of exposure no other conference gets. We're going to have 850 events on the networks annually, plus other events on digital networks. It works for fans and for the student-athletes, and I would expect it to be of help to coaches from a recruiting standpoint, too.
Tribune: The Pac-12 Network has partnerships with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House networks. What about other cable and satellite companies?
Scott: We plan to have additional cable, satellite and telecommunication companies. We hope they will take the service, but those will have to be negotiated. We've engaged in preliminary conversations. Our highest priority right now is to put a management team in place to have the launch next year. It may take some time to strike additional deals, but it's a high priority, too.
Tribune: What are the financial numbers for the Pac-12 Network?
Scott: It will be profitable from year one, but how profitable, I can't say. It will depend on how we do with further distribution deals with satellite and cable providers, and how much advertising we sell. It's an ongoing business concern unlike the way the ESPN/Fox deal works, which is guaranteed. Over time, we'll generate significant revenue, but I can't tell you at what level yet.
Tribune: Will you have both Thursday and Friday night football games?
Scott: Yes. Between the two, eight games per season, probably four on each day. Each school wouldn't host more than one a season.
Tribune: Are you concerned about the conflict with high school football on Friday nights?
Scott: It's an area we're treading on very delicately. We've had a lot of consultations with representatives of high school associations. We're going to do our best to mitigate any overlaps. For instance, in Oregon, we understand one Friday might be an in-service day (with prep games on a Thursday night). We'll try to work with that.
Tribune: You have done major restructuring of the league's football officiating system. In February, you hired the well-regarded Mike Pereira as interim coordinator of officiating. In June, you hired Tony Corrente, a longtime NFL official, as coordinator, shifting Pereira into a consultant's role. The contracts of 12 officials were not renewed and 18 new officials will work this season. And you hired seven supervisors to oversee each of the seven officiating positions, as well as an eighth for the replay booth, and work with them on a weekly basis.
Scott: The on-field product is directly related to the integrity of the competition. Officiating is the most important part of that. Mike put in recommendations for several changes, and we supported all of them. It's a dramatic transformation in structure and in the quality of officiating. My goal is that we have a very high level of accountability and constant improvement in our officiating. It would be hard to point to anyone with more credibility than Mike, and Tony has tremendous pedigree. We have the best of the best running this.
Tribune: The supervisors will now do the grading of the officials, not the coaches as in the past. Is that right?
Scott: Yes. We're going to modernize the whole system. Coaches' input will still be important, but we'll migrate more to how the NFL works.
Tribune: The Pac-12 currently has seven bowl affiliations, in order the Rose Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Sun Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and New Mexico Bowl. Your thoughts?
Scott: I'm happy with them. We're going to be monitoring carefully how many bowl-eligible teams and slots we have. All of them have three years left on four-year cycles. Everything is locked in. The next time to evaluate is about a year from now.
Tribune: You've said you want to expand your brand globally. Is it in the works? What do you have in mind?
Scott: International exposure is important to our universities. It's an area where athletics can help the missions of schools. Because of my 20 years in pro tennis, much of it spent overseas, I have a vision for how we help the universities achieve what they want. It has been a back-burner issue. It's something I would liked to have spent more time on.
Now that the TV deal is done, I'm looking forward to turning more of my attention to our international plans. Our TV network will provide exposure in a more systematic way, and we want to bring more teams overseas for games either with ourselves, against international opponents or for tournament play.
Tribune: What has been the Pac-12 involvement regarding the investigations regarding recruiting improprieties in the Oregon football program?
Scott: We have a parallel structure in process to what the NCAA does. What we've done has been in collaboration with the NCAA - fact-finding, interviews, things like that.
Tribune: In light of penalties to other schools, was Southern Cal treated too harshly in the Reggie Bush case?
Scott: They've been treated harshly. Our focus is making sure there is consistency and fairness in the standards being applied across the board. But the message was sent, and (SC) has taken that very seriously in terms of how they responded.
Tribune: Will you push for reforms inside the NCAA in regards to recruiting?
Scott: Reform of enforcement while looking at recruiting rules, certainly. It's being talked about a lot right now, and it's an important area. The level of negativity out there and the cynicism shouldn't be acceptable. We need to look at improving our means of enforcement.
Tribune: Do you see a time when the six major conferences (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC and Big East) might break away from the NCAA?
Scott: I don't see that at the moment. I hope the day never comes. I'm encouraged there is meaningful discussion about reform and a growing recognition that the NCAA as an organization isn't going to stay relevant and effective if it's not more flexible to how the six conferences relate and compare to the other conferences.
Tribune: How concerned are you about the quality of play in basketball in the conference?
Scott: I'm not concerned long-term. It's cyclical. We've gone through a down period, but we have a tremendous pedigree and great coaches.
Tribune: What have you accomplished that you are most proud of?
Scott: I don't usually think in those terms. If I were to point to one thing at this stage, it's what we've done with our media agreements. We've fundamentally changed the way our schools are perceived nationally and are followed. It's something I'll look back on and say it gives me the most satisfaction.
Tribune: You have a five-year contract. Is this a destination job for you? The men's ATP tour will be looking for a CEO next year.
Scott: I hope I'm here a very long time.
Tribune: Have you had a vacation this summer?
Scott: I've been with family, but I wouldn't call it a vacation. I'm very busy right now. I imagine around the holidays I'll be able to take some time to catch my breath.