Hollywood, Calif. • Utah fans responded well to their team’s first appearance in the Pac-12 football championship game last November, traveling in big numbers to Santa Clara, Calif.
They will have easier access to the conference title games in 2020 and '21, if the Utes get there.
The Pac-12 has secured a two-year deal to play in the new Las Vegas stadium, where the NFL's Oakland Raiders are moving next year, commissioner Larry Scott announced Wednesday during the Pac-12 Football Media Day.
The 2020 component of the agreement was a late development and came as something of a surprise, amid reports that the conference would go to the new Los Angeles stadium in a one-year agreement. That venue may become part of a future rotation, Scott said.
Utah athletic director Mark Harlan labeled the move to Las Vegas “really exciting,” considering the proximity of Las Vegas to the school's fan base.
The 2019 championship game will be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in December, concluding a six-year run.
The new Las Vegas stadium also will host an upgraded Las Vegas Bowl beginning in 2020, with the Pac-12 opposing teams from the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten on a rotating basis. The Pac-12′s complete bowl lineup for 2020-25 is not finalized, but will include the Alamo Bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl on the top tier, below the Rose Bowl. Scott also expects Pac-12 teams to be involved in season-opening games in Las Vegas in the coming years.
An independent, four-month review of Pac-12 football officiating was another major subject Wednesday, as Scott acknowledged problems that surfaced last season.
The study was “an incredible process,” Harlan said. “The athletic directors were heavily involved. The fact that the commissioner is going to adopt all those recommendations is a great thing for him to do, and I think it's going to get us better.”
The steps include having the coordinator of officiating report directly to Scott, clearly scripting the replay process during games, creating more consistency in the training and grading of officials and allowing for more transparency and public commentary about selected plays.
Scott cited the replay controversy during last year’s USC-Washington State game as a driving force of the study and its recommendations from a firm that analyzes officiating. Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson, a former NFL administrator, chaired the steering committee that worked with Sibson Consulting; Oregon State’s Scott Barnes was among others involved.
Explaining certain calls “will be an important step forward in terms of how and when we communicate, based on the significance of any egregious errors that have an impact on player safety or the outcome of the game,” Scott said.
Scott came across as less defensive and more genuine than in past question-and answer sessions, saying the conference would “acknowledge criticisms” as valid in some cases. But he's less concerned about the Pac-12's revenue distributions to its schools, compared with other Power Five conferences, noting that the timing of the league's media contracts in 2012 affects those numbers.
“Other conferences' TV deals have since come up, other conferences have expanded and renegotiated TV deals or started networks,” Scott said. “So some of this is just timing. And come 2024, you'll see the league tables in revenue, as people like to follow them at the conference level, shift again, and you're going to see the Pac-12 skyrocket up. I can't tell you right now exactly where we'll land, but I think it'll be impressive.”
Between now and then, the Pac-12 may add a “strategic partner,” investing in the conference media rights and providing an infusion of cash.
“Even though we’ve got this long-term strategy and we’re very focused on 2024, we’re always willing to look at the environment, look at the market,” Scott said. “And if there are opportunities to stay consistent with our strategy but take advantage of shorter-term opportunities, we’re working really closely with our athletics directors, really closely with our presidents and chancellors in terms of evaluating everything.”