The day some 10 years ago was memorable. The man who made it that way, not so much.
It was one of the biggest moments in Utah sports history, the day the Utes were officially invited from the backwater Mountain West into what was supposed to become the big-time Pac-12. And the league’s commissioner, Larry Scott, was front and center, leading the festivities.
His deal, the one that made him the highest-paid commissioner in all of college sports, at one point enabling him to collect more than $5 million a year, was supposed to run through summer, 2022.
Well. In the immortal words of Inspector Clouseau, “Noooooot anymoooooore.”
After a meeting with league presidents and chancellors this week, it was determined and announced — “mutually agreed on” — that Scott’s run as Pac-12 master and commander would meet an early end. Which is to say, cutting through all the B.S., the dude was canned.
And the only question that lingered in the smoke of that fire is: “What took so long?”
In the rarest of occasions does anyone like to see somebody lose his job.
For Pac-12 presidents, and a good number of other people in and around the conference, this is one of those times.
In a statement released by the league, from Oregon president Michael Schill, Scott was thanked and appreciated for his leadership, but, it read, " … That said, the intercollegiate athletics marketplace doesn’t remain static and now is a good time to bring in a new leader who will help us develop our go-forward strategy.”
Translation: “We’ve fallen and we can’t get up. Somebody new, please, help us!”
How long that getting back up will take, even with a fresh boost, nobody knows.
Said Scott: “I expressed that it was a good time in my life for a change. It was kind of clear. Let’s get on with it, no reason to wait around.”
No, no reason.
Scott was asked by CBS sports’ Dennis Dodd what he thought his legacy would be. His answer: “I don’t know. That’s for others to say.”
OK then, let’s say it all plain.
Under Scott, the Pac-12 lost prestige, lost its competitive edge in football and basketball, lost its financial standing relative to other P5 leagues, lost face with a couple of embarrassing scandals.
It never did lose its arrogance, clinging to its self-appointed designation as the “Conference of Champions.”
It was more the Conference of Confusion.
Scott was the wealthiest-but-worst of the P5 captains, the league under his watch having nosedived. Through it all, at least until the end, he whistled in the dark, neglecting to candidly acknowledge the bad decisions — his decisions — that not-so-slowly caused the league to lurch.
And lurch, it did, despite Scott’s ongoing insistence for everyone concerned and dismayed by and curious about that lurching to stop and appreciate the dominance of the Pac-12 in realms such as water polo and fencing and beach volleyball and rowing and sailing.
Meanwhile, the two biggies, football and basketball, and the money that came alongside them, were caught in a downward swirl that Scott could not stop, could not plug, could not fix.
Other major conferences laughed at the Pac-12, figuring it could keep its trophies in the sports that Thurston Howell III and his wife Lovey and a few of their yacht club associates cared so deeply about. They, meanwhile, would go ahead and reap the benefits and gather in the spoils of the sports for which Joe and Jill Sixpack and a hundred million of their friends hungered.
Under Scott’s leadership, the Pac-12 made serious errors which led to serious deficits in revenue streams for schools in the league, at least compared with other conferences of similar ambition, particularly from media deals.
The Pac-12 decided to build its own network in a manner in which it would haul in all the profits, but also suffer all the liabilities that accompany such an endeavor. The other P5s made deals of their own with other networks, partnering in a way that rewarded each member institution with upward of $20 million more each year than what Pac-12 schools received. The Pac-12 Network was expensive and struggled to get seen, never finding a way to make a deal with DirecTV, much to the chagrin of the league’s fans.
Scott always claimed the Pac-12 media agreements were set up before the swell in other conference TV contracts and that the Pac-12 Network scenario would pay off in the long run. The start of that deep-cash run remains far off and out of sight.
A while back, I received a communique from a Pac-12 president who confidentially ripped Scott’s careless lack of judgment and vision, pointing not only to the smaller stacks of green each league school got, but also to the evidences of a deficit of competitive vigor in those two primary sports, citing the Pac-12′s lack of regularity in qualifying for the College Football Playoff and the NCAA Tournament.
It’s been nearly two decades since a league football team won a national championship. And the excuse made that the Pac-12 has so many quality teams that it devours itself each season is a claim that has become silly and hollow.
As the years have gone by, more and more Pac-12 presidents and athletic directors have spoken out about their worries. Money in college sports, when properly applied, is the lifeblood for competitive success, of winning.
The league additionally suffered open embarrassment from the infamous officiating scandal in the replay booth a couple of years ago. Scott also was criticized for the conference, in so many words, paying for coverage in the Los Angeles Times, a practice that was forthrightly stopped once it came to light.
Worse, league schools also found themselves in the throes of losing recruiting battles for top talent to outside programs, losing coaches to programs in other P5 leagues; programs that could pay those coaches more without straining other income flows and offer them better facilities with more amenities, all because those programs were swimming in money that Pac-12 schools could only wade knee-deep through.
Against all of that, the league had other expenses, too. Its headquarters in downtown San Francisco was costing some $7 million annually, where league offices in other conferences were costing less than half that.
When a number of Pac-12 staff members’ jobs were cut out from under them last year, and salaries for those who survived that purge were slashed, Scott’s $5.3 million pay was trimmed all the way down to $4.8 million, which kept him atop the heap of P5 commissioners in salaries paid. In fact, it was more than the Big Ten and SEC commissioners combined.
Also, at that time, a reported $1.9 million loan which had been granted him by way of the conference when he was hired in 2009 so he could purchase a sweet Bay Area house had not been paid back.
Moreover, Scott, in the midst of a second round of staff cuts and furloughs, paid to himself and other executives $4 million in bonuses, of which he rewarded himself with a reported $2.5 million.
The commish grabbed what he could while he could, sensing that the end of his time was coming.
And while he didn’t like talking about it publicly, privately he must have known he had done a lousy job guiding the league through rough waters, seas that were swamping his ship, overwhelming his skill at the helm.
It’s not like Larry Scott is Beelzebub.
He managed some good things, foremost among them, he got Utah into the Pac-12, after Texas and other Big 12 schools rejected the conference’s offer to join, an admission that was accepted in a suite at Rice-Eccles Stadium, attended by a multitude of dignitaries, celebrated with piles of balloons, a large crowd, enthusiastic cheers and applause, a thousand slaps on the back, and a bundle of red roses, representing a Rose Bowl opportunity the Utes, in spite of their growth, have not yet taken advantage of.
Utah will always be grateful to the man for that invitation to a proud and promising association, the Conference of Champions, even though it became less proud and less promising, the Conference of Consternation, in the years since.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.