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Did Larry Scott kill the Pac-12? It’s complicated.



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The anger was instant, arising simply minutes after information broke that USC and UCLA had been headed for the Big Ten Conference. Followers tapped out posts on social media, one after one other, invoking the identify of Larry Scott.

A yr had handed because the former Pac-12 commissioner stepped down, but individuals blamed him for the lack of two marquee applications. They labeled him “harmful” and “a fraud,” predicting that enterprise faculties would sometime train about his “management failures.”

Larry Scott single-handedly destroyed the Pac-12, they wrote.

This vitriol emanated from a call Scott made shortly after taking cost in 2009. At a time when different Energy 5 conferences had been partnering with ESPN and Fox to launch devoted networks — offers that will generate billions of {dollars} — Scott persuaded his universities to roll the cube.

The Pac-12, he insisted, ought to build its own network. The enterprise may want time to collect momentum, however it could permit the convention to maintain all of the management, all of the income.

“If we do that proper,” Scott recalled telling his college presidents, “it is going to be profitable.”

His gamble by no means paid off. A decade after their debut, the Pac-12 Networks have but to realize widespread traction, the convention falling nicely behind its rivals in annual income and struggling to win on a national level within the all-important sports activities of soccer and males’s basketball.

“It’s straightforward now to take pictures at Larry Scott and play armchair quarterback,” mentioned Patrick Rishe, director of the sports activities enterprise program at Washington College in St. Louis. “That being mentioned, I believe historical past will present he didn’t make the wisest resolution.”

Which raises the query: With USC and UCLA departing, with hypothesis about Oregon, Washington and Stanford quickly to observe, how a lot of the blame does Scott deserve?


His hiring regarded like a savvy transfer for a convention lagging in income and nationwide status. It made sense to deliver aboard an outsider who had proved his advertising abilities as head of the Ladies’s Tennis Assn.

Scott, who didn’t reply to an interview request for this story, knew what he was entering into.

“That was my problem,” he mentioned in 2010.

The brand new boss rang the opening bell at NASDAQ and ran a promo in Occasions Sq., saying: “We have now an obligation to advertise our product as broadly as we are able to.” He added two faculties, Utah and Colorado, by means of growth and unveiled a revamped brand.

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott stands next to a chart as he announces the splitting of NCAA college football divisions

Larry Scott broadcasts the splitting of the Pac-10 into two divisions throughout a information convention Oct. 21, 2010, in San Francisco.

(Paul Sakuma / Related Press)

Tv {dollars} had been altering the enterprise of school sports activities. The Large Ten had partnered with Fox to launch its community in 2007 and the SEC was handing its channel over to ESPN in trade for a large rights payment. CBS, ESPN and others expressed curiosity within the Pac-12.

“One criticism I’ve heard about Larry Scott within the trade is that he all the time needs to be the neatest man within the room,” Rishe mentioned. “You marvel if he tried to out-think this one.”

Cash and fairness had been solely a part of the argument for going it alone. The Pac-12 had all the time thought of itself the “Olympic” conference, profitable nationwide titles in sports activities akin to swimming, volleyball and water polo. A longtime broadcaster may focus too narrowly on soccer and males’s basketball; a self-owned community would guarantee these sports activities obtained correct publicity.

The Pac-12 Networks launched in 2012 with a nationwide channel and 6 regional channels, which Scott characterised as an effort to “super-serve followers” in varied geographic markets. Scott additionally labored a traditionally profitable aspect deal, promoting a bit of soccer and males’s basketball video games to ESPN and Fox for $3 billion over 12 years.

That cash, he believed, would give his community some cushion to ascertain itself.

Although the market was crowded — so many sports activities channels leaping into the fray — the Pac-12 requested carriers for a reported 80 cents per subscriber, greater than CNN, USA or FX. Time Warner Cable agreed however negotiations with DirecTV proved harder.

“One criticism I’ve heard about Larry Scott within the trade is that he all the time needs to be the neatest man within the room. You marvel if he tried to out-think this one.”

— Patrick Rishe, director of the sports activities enterprise program at Washington College in St. Louis

Scott acknowledged that distribution can be essential.

“I do know there’s plenty of nervousness,” he mentioned in 2012. “It’s comprehensible … it issues lots.”


Three years into his huge gamble, in the course of the 2014 Pac-12 soccer media days in Los Angeles, Scott took a break from the proceedings to discover a shady spot exterior. Talking with a reporter, he preached persistence.

“It’s important to take a look at this based mostly on the place we’ll be after 10 years,” he mentioned. “Not three.”

The early returns weren’t promising.

Nonetheless unable to safe a DirecTV deal, the Pac-12 was reaching solely 11 million paying subscribers in comparison with 57 million for the Large Ten. With the SEC set to relaunch to a predicted 67 million households, Scott informed his college presidents “we’ve got to take a look at the advantages long-term.”

Although the ESPN and Fox offers had been profitable, the cable networks demanded nighttime kickoffs to fill empty airtime on the East Coast. Followers and coaches grew annoyed with the “Pac-12 After Darkish” video games.

Past that, Scott’s venture hit a stretch of dangerous luck.

NCAA sanctions damage USC soccer greater than anticipated and Oregon misplaced coach Chip Kelly to the NFL. Not one of the prime males’s basketball applications might attain the Remaining 4.

The convention discovered itself in a Catch-22. Its community wanted a juggernaut group to lure viewers however, with rival conferences producing bigger revenues, spending extra on coaches and lavish coaching amenities, competing for prime recruits grew harder.

“That they had plenty of product, however they didn’t have the extent of viewers they wanted,” mentioned Daniel Durban, director of USC’s Institute of Sports activities, Media and Society. “Frankly, the Pac-12 simply wasn’t that compelling.”

In the meantime, the SEC was pouring unprecedented sources into soccer, with Nick Saban and Alabama main the best way, racking up one championship after one other.

“The Pac-12 faculties have all the time been on the West Coast, they’ve all the time handled visibility and recruiting points,” Rishe mentioned. “These points turn into extra acute as soon as a convention just like the SEC takes over and it turns into tougher to catch up.”

The Olympic sports activities couldn’t compensate.

“The Olympic factor might be icing on the cake,” Durbin mentioned. “However you want the core product.”

The UCLA softball team poses for photos after defeating Oklahoma in the 2019 Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.

The UCLA softball group poses for photographs after defeating Oklahoma within the 2019 Ladies’s Faculty World Sequence in Oklahoma Metropolis.

(Alonzo Adams / Related Press)


The numbers remained lukewarm by means of 2018, the Pac-12 distributing about $30 million a yr to its faculties, nicely behind the $40 million-plus the SEC was paying out. Washington State president Kirk Schulz and others started to complain publicly.

That summer time, sitting within the stands at an AAU basketball event in Backyard Grove, watching his teenage son play, Scott held quick.

“I’d by no means say that you simply wouldn’t make a special name sooner or later,” he mentioned. “However at this level there’s been an actual conviction by our universities and myself that the unique functions of getting a Pac-12 community are vital.”

ESPN reportedly supplied to distribute the community in trade for an prolonged rights settlement. No deal was made.

“If that was the case, it was a considerably missed alternative,” guide Lee Berke, president of LHB Sports activities, Leisure & Media Inc., mentioned. “There’s undoubtedly room for criticism.”

Pac-12 college presidents lastly misplaced persistence after the 2020 soccer season, when it was introduced that Scott would step down in June, a yr earlier than the tip of his contract.

“At one level, our tv settlement was probably the most profitable within the nation and the debut of the Pac-12 Networks helped ship our championship model to U.S. and international markets on conventional and digital platforms,” Oregon president Michael Schill mentioned in an announcement. “That mentioned, the intercollegiate athletics market doesn’t stay static and now is an efficient time to herald a brand new chief who will assist us develop our go-forward technique.”

“Larry Scott is among the points, … [But] you may’t scapegoat only one individual.”

— Daniel Durban, director of USC’s Institute of Sports activities, Media and Society

Their technique turns into harder with present media contracts expiring in 2024 and two, if not 5, marquee applications headed out the door.

This exodus might be linked to Scott’s gambit. The Large Ten distributed $680 million to varsities within the 2021 fiscal yr, virtually double the $344 million paid out by the Pac-12. With out further income, UCLA officers mentioned they had been prone to chopping applications. USC president Carol Folt referred to as the Large Ten transfer a profit to her faculty’s “long-term success and stability.”

So the place does that go away Scott and his 11-year tenure?

Actually he should take duty for main the Pac-12 down the trail to self-ownership and signing that 12-year ESPN-Fox deal that left the convention unable to regulate to a altering media setting. Additionally, for failing to shift course in different methods.

“Bear in mind, when he got here onto the scene, he was making an attempt to make a splash,” Rishe mentioned. “There was clearly some myopia.”

Some elements had been past his management.

Specialists level to that run of dangerous luck, the cyclical nature of school sports activities and the college presidents who signed off on Scott’s media technique in the beginning. As soon as the community launched, campus leaders declined to spend at SEC ranges and foster profitable groups that will draw extra viewers.

The convention additionally confronted an uphill battle by way of geography and time zones, with a majority of tv viewers residing in distant areas of the nation.

“Except you took the Pac-12 and moved it throughout the Mississippi River, you’re all the time going to have these issues,” Berke mentioned. “Basically, that’s what the Large Ten has executed, they’ve taken USC and UCLA and moved them into the central and japanese time zones the place much more of their video games are going to be seen.”

Shortly earlier than stepping down, Scott informed the Related Press he lamented his faculties not profitable extra in soccer. He criticized college management for abandoning his plan too early.

Followers didn’t react kindly to the feedback. Nonetheless, the ultimate verdict on his tenure might be extra nuanced than a slew of offended posts on social media may counsel.

“Larry Scott is among the points,” Durbin mentioned. However in the case of one thing as huge because the potential implosion of the Pac-12, he added, “you may’t scapegoat only one individual.”