After watching a kind of State of the Sagging Union news conference regarding the Pac-12 on Monday, three notables reared up, one of which we already were painfully aware, the other two complete surprises, one a negative, the other a positive.
The first is that the league is lagging behind other power conferences, not just competitively in the two major sports, but in something far more important — money. The Pac-12 dispersed to its schools some $20 million less, each, than the Big Ten. The Conference of Champions is actually the Conference of Chump Change.
But not when it comes to paying its commish.
That’s the second thing. Larry Scott, despite his bumbling, stumbling leadership, is the highest paid of all P5 league czars. Not only is he the highest paid, but in a year when the conference’s generated profits actually decreased, he got a raise of $500,000, bumping from $4.8 million to $5.3.
How that raise is justifiable, to what it is attributable is mystifying. Is it because he struts around wearing nice suits and a Bozo nose?
Utah fans might forever appreciate Scott’s role, whatever it really was, in getting the Utes into the conference. But giving him that sort of remuneration as he oversees what amounts, in relative terms, to the league’s downward slide is laughable.
Jokes are made about the commissioner behind his back in administrative offices around the league, at least in some of them, and slowly that comedy is turning into complaints, punchlines are turning into pitchforks.
The third thing is a strong, admirable move. The Pac-12 eliminated the extra-year penalty for athletes who want to transfer from one league school to another. It is, indeed, in the athletes’ best interests to allow them to go where they want to go, especially since some scholarships are guaranteed for only one year at a time. No longer does the power pendulum swing only to the weighted advantage of the original institution with which a player signs out of high school.
There are those who worry that such an arrangement will work against a school like Utah in a sport like football. But it won’t. The reason being that Utah is a better program to which the worriers are not giving enough credit.
The Utes have been proficient at finding and developing talented players who sometimes were overlooked or undervalued by, say, USC or Oregon or Washington or UCLA or Stanford. That much is not only evidenced by Utah’s climb in Pac-12 success, but also by the number of its players who are being drafted by NFL teams.
Worriers believe that without the extra-year stipulation, some of the higher profile Pac-12 teams will cherrypick the guys Utah spots and develops, luring them away once they’ve proved themselves as useful contributors.
If Quarterback A comes to the Utes and throws 40 touchdown passes as a freshman or a sophomore, will USC bat its eyes at QB A and offer him the spotlight of Hollywood, the sand and surf of Manhattan Beach, the self-importance of being a Trojan?
Same thing — and far more likely in the case of Utah — for a star running back or safety or defensive tackle.
What if the appeal of Uncle Phil’s money and infrastructure in Eugene suddenly is made available? What then?
Relax, Utah, it’s not a real concern.
Once a player establishes himself with the Utes, he’ll likely stay a Ute. There might be some exceptions, but on the whole the program is stable enough, attractive enough to hold — and hold onto — its own.
If there is an increase of movement, it’s more probable that athletes initially drawn in by the glory that once was USC or some other marquee Pac-12 program will find it crowded there, not what they had envisioned for themselves, and will seek out a familiar place where overlooked talent is not only recognized, but utilized, where the coaching staff allows and enables players, particularly those with chips on their shoulders, to discover what they are, what they can be.
Again, check the numbers of players taken out of Rice-Eccles in the NFL Draft.
Utah is all over that, having established a pattern and a program that clearly showcases talent for scouts to see while winning its share of games for its players, coaches and fans.
At least in football.
Utah basketball, despite sending players like Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma to the NBA, is on a bit shakier ground. (Already, Utes come and go as a matter of routine.) On the other hand, so is the conference in its entirety. That’s why on the same day the Pac-12 announced its change to the transfer rule, it also plugged in new requirements for its teams to play more league games and to upgrade their nonconference schedules.
That’s a bonus positive — at a time when Pac-12 positives are tough to come by, when the first two notables drown out darn-near everything else.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.