Don’t worry. Chris Hill is enjoying retirement.
But he’s still paying close attention to the university he worked at for 31 years and the conference he paved the way to joining. So when the longtime University of Utah athletic director was reached to discuss the wobbly state of the Pac-12 Conference, he did what he said he’s always tried to do: Be honest.
The Oregonian published a four-part series by sports columnist John Canzano in the run-up to the Pac-12 title game last Friday, in which Utah lost to Washington 10-3 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. And of the dozens and dozens of people Canzano asked to weigh in on why the Pac-12 has fallen behind other Power 5 conferences around the country, Hill was among those who gave his two cents.
“This is not being too altruistic, I hope, but I just said what I thought maybe others were thinking,” Hill said this week. “The main thing I was trying to say and I wanted it to come across this way is not calling for anything, but just saying we ought to ponder this, we ought to think about these things.”
The series laid out in detail how the Pac-12, under commissioner Larry Scott, has struggled to keep up with some of the premier conferences nationwide. It also delved into why the Pac-12 offices in downtown San Francisco are such an exorbitant cost to the conference — $6.9 million — and how a targeting review call earlier this year was compromised by an unauthorized staffer. Scott also has a $4.8 million salary, twice as much as the Big Ten’s Jim Delany. Scott was booed heavily when he awarded Washington the Pac-12 trophy after defeating Utah last week.
Hill reiterated this week that he wasn’t calling for an investigation into Scott or the conference as a whole. He just wants to see the conference begin to turn the corner. To Hill, it starts with managing expenses, paying the bills and above all else, allowing those on the ground level to have more input. Hill said he’d love to see the conference receive more feedback from student-athletes and coaches on day-to-day processes.
“At the end of the day, the thing I talked about most was transparency and the job I had, transparency was a good thing,” Hill said. “If I were to rent a facility and it didn’t seem right, the public has a right to know, so I better make sure it passes the eyeball test before I did it.”
The Oregonian series reported that each university in the Pac-12 is distributed $31 million annually, which is $6 million behind the Big Ten and $10 million behind the SEC.
“We’re never going to have as much money as the SEC and the Big Ten, just like Utah’s never going to have the kind of money USC has,” Hill said, “so we’ve got to be smart; smart with our money and work it that way.”
Over the weekend, Utah President Ruth Watkins tweeted: “I’m aware of The Oregonian series on the Pac-12 & its leadership, which identifies a number of key issues, concerns & challenges. The U is a proud member of the Pac-12 & I’m fully engaged in working to ensure its continued success to benefit our institutions, teams & fans.”
Watkins, through a university spokesperson, declined further comment.
Asked what needs to change, Hill said: “It’s hurting our brand to not be together as a a league and we have great teams and a great group. You look at the schools involved in the Pac-12 and they’re the envy of a lot of people in the country in terms of type of schools and opportunity to be successful.”
Hill said his own transparency and insight stemmed from wanting to represent his own opinion but also those associated with the conference over the years who helped it get to where it is today. Retired or not, Hill’s pride for his school and the conference he lead it into still burns bright.
“I think by having a name by a quote, it gives it a little more attention,” he said. “It could’ve been me or anybody else.”