There was no way the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors were going to allow Larry Scott to negotiate the conference’s next media rights deal.
If there was no way the presidents and chancellors were going to allow that critical piece of long-term business to fall to the current commissioner, then there was no reason for him to stick around.
That is what multiple Pac-12 sources have laid out to The Salt Lake Tribune over the last few months. The top of the decision-making food chain wanted to move on from Scott, and wanted to do so in plenty of time to get the next commissioner in place and settled before media rights negotiations begin in late 2022 or early 2023. The league’s current media deal expires at the end of the 2023-24 academic year.
Scott, whose contract ends in June 2022, will leave the Pac-12 on June 30 after assisting with assisting with the transition.
“I wasn’t really surprised at the timing of it,” former University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I’m not near the CEO group like I used to be, but you hear enough that it sounded like this was the direction it was going. When I retired (in 2018), I knew the presidents were wanting to make a decision on Larry.”
Hill was at the helm of the Utes athletic department in 2010 when Scott added Utah and Colorado to create the Pac-12 beginning with the 2011-12 academic year. Two months before the Utes and Buffaloes officially joined, Scott spearheaded a groundbreaking 12-year, $3 billion media rights deal with FOX and ESPN.
That was a big part of the good when speaking about Scott’s 11-year Pac-12 tenure. A big part of the bad is that as years went by, the media rights deal got lapped by the league’s Power Five peers. Furthermore, Scott was hammered over his insistence on running both the league as well as the Pac-12 Network, the latter without the backing of FOX or ESPN.
One can surmise that he had mismanaged both to the point where any optimism about his future prospects running either had severely waned.
Scott now has an exit date, so the question doesn’t just become who is the next Pac-12 commissioner, but what does that person need to possess to be effective?
For starters, the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors would be well-served to hire someone with, at a minimum, some experience in high-level college athletics, because Scott famously had none. He came to the Pac-10 in March 2009, having run the Women’s Tennis Association for six years.
To that end, the names being floated as potential candidates make a lot of sense.
West Coast Conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez served as the Pac-12′s senior associate commissioner and senior woman administrator for eight years before leaving for the WCC. Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne spent eight years as the AD at Arizona, so he understands the landscape and what the Pac-12 needs to do to succeed. Former West Virginia AD and NCAA executive Oliver Luck checks a lot of boxes, as would longtime Ohio State AD Gene Smith, who is widely considered one of the most powerful figures in college athletics. Smith was the AD at Arizona State from 2000-05.
“The business of college athletics has just grown, and grown, and grown,” Hill said. “Having someone with the right understanding of college athletics, what it means on individual campuses, the nuances of running programs, how to help schools get better. Those are all critical elements of the job.
“Running an athletic department is a really complicated process.”
Yes, it would be hugely beneficial if the next Pac-12 commissioner could deftly negotiate the next media deal, but the truth of the matter is, that should not be at the top of the priority list when selecting Scott’s replacement.
As recently as September, there were reports of Pac-12 decision-makers considering farming out the next media rights negotiations to an outside consultant, with that person not reporting directly to Scott, but to the Pac-12 executive committee, chaired by Oregon president Michael Schill.
Freezing out the next commissioner from the process entirely would be bad business, but bringing in a consultant to help would be wise, because the Pac-12 could use all the help it can get.
In 2017, the Big Ten announced a six-year media rights deal, thought to be worth roughly $2.64 billion. In December, ESPN and the SEC revealed a 10-year deal centering around the league’s top football games beginning in 2024. That agreement is worth approximately $300 million, which is better than six times the $55 million CBS currently pays the conference for the same deal.
“We also needed to bring our new commissioner on board early enough so they could really get to know our campuses,” Washington State president Kirk Schulz, a member of the Pac-12 CEO executive committee, told the Seattle Times. “We’ve got everything from college-town campuses to big urban centers. A single visit isn’t enough to sort of get to know us. If they’re going to negotiate and be able to lead the conference in that next round [of media rights talks], they’ve got to understand the uniqueness of the West Coast. They’ve got to understand the uniqueness of our schools, our strengths and some of our challenges.”