Friday, September 3, 2010
Q&A with Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott
By Ted Miller
It's been a busy summer for Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, who made a bold, but ultimately abortive move to create the first super-conference -- a Pac-16 with Texas as the headlining new partner -- but he still made big news when he expanded the conference to 12 teams with Utah and Colorado.
But his work is far from done. He's got to figure out how to divide the new conference into divisions. He's got to figure out where and how he wants to play a conference championship game.
And he's got to then try to negotiate a blockbuster media deal that keeps the Pac-12 competitive with the other top BCS conferences going forward.
While a lot of tough negotiations lay ahead -- particularly over the divisions -- he did have some answers this week. While he wouldn't get pinned down definitively, it's clear the conference will continue to play a nine-game conference schedule going forward and that there will be a conference championship game.
Also: A Pac-10 network is going to get serious consideration.
The football part of football is about to start cracking in earnest, but we wanted to check in with Scott and find out where things stand.
So has life as the Pac-10 commissioner slowed down a bit or are things still as busy as this summer?
Larry Scott: The summer is generally a slower time, but we've been very busy with preparations for the expanded conference. We've been actively working on divisional structure, looking at our revenue sharing arrangements, planning for a football championship game and continuing our preparatory work for our upcoming media negotiations. Those are the top priorities we've been focused on, as well as the regular business of getting ready for this season.
It has been some weeks between the aspirations for a Pac-16 and the deal falling apart: Any perspective or lessons learned from that?
LS: Nothing specifically. We feel good about the process. We got a lot of positive from it. We are thrilled with where we wound up. We're excited about where the Pac 10 is going as the Pac-12. There's been no looking back. Just excited about our future and our prospects. No real additional perspectives on it.
What are the chances the Pac-12 will revisit expansion in the coming years?
LS: It's pretty impossible to predict what the timing could be around possible super-conferences discussions. I've said and believe that there will come a time when those conversations are picked up again, because the underlying fundamentals behind our vision and the plan we articulated had a lot of positive reaction and got a lot of traction. It came very close for good reasons. So if and when those conversations happen again, the Pac-12 will be very well-placed, and I'm sure will be in the mix. I couldn't begin to predict what the timing of that might be, because it depends on factors outside our control.
The biggest bit of intrigue on the table is how the Pac-12 will divide itself. Update us on that process: What is going on between now and the meetings in October?
LS: We have a working group of athletic directors for football and senior women administrators for other sports looking at sports schedules on a sport-by-sport basis. So we are analyzing different models, talking about pros and cons, looking at different scenarios. And on a parallel track we are also discussing our revenue sharing arrangements, because how you divide divisions could have an impact based on our current model, which is appearance-based revenue sharing for football. We are very much on track against the timetable I laid out, where we've got several more rounds of discussions with our athletic directors. Ultimately the decision will be made by our board, which are our presidents and chancellors, at the end of October. I would describe the conversations as spirited and robust. I think there is a very healthy balance between institutions looking at the issues from an individual perspective, but I've been very impressed with the big-picture view the leadership of our schools is taking toward what is in the best interests of the conference long-term. I think there is a common view that that which is good for the conference will be best for each of the individual institutions long-term.
We hear lots of talk about a North-South split or a zipper plan: Does one or the other have more momentum in your mind?
LS: Not at this point in time. I'd say we're looking at both of those models, and frankly hybrids of those models on parallel tracks. There are very clear pros and cons in different ways you could cut the geographic divisions or zipper models. There is no front runner at the moment.
How does this not become a conflict between the Northwest schools and the California schools?
LS: I don't see it being that. As I said with geographic structure, there are models where the California schools would stay together and there are models where Northern California and Southern California schools split. So discussing north-south doesn't necessarily have to mean the Northwest schools are separated from California. With a zipper, there's obviously, by definition of the zipper, the Northwest schools would each have one Northern California [and] one Southern California school in their division. That is an issue that is on the table that is being discussed, but is not a foregone conclusion at all that going with the geographic structure has to separate the Northwest schools from California.
Fair to say no matter how the divisions go, the nine-game conference schedule will remain?
LS: No definitive decision has been taken on that, but there is a strong bias to maintain the nine-game conference schedule for several reasons, including that I think the Pac-10 prides itself on having a tough schedule, both within the conference and out of conference, placing a priority on producing a good product for fans and other stakeholders. We feel we're doing it the right way. A good way for everyone. And I think over time you'll see more conferences doing that, playing a nine-game conference schedule for the reasons I laid out.
First, is a conference title game a sure thing? And, if so, which plan -- home game, neutral site -- leads among the conference and athletic directors?
LS: We are right smack in the middle of those discussions. In fact, I had a discussion on that very topic [Tuesday] with a group of five athletic directors in San Francisco. We are almost surely going to have a football championship game. And we are planning on it for 2012. What's unknown at the moment is whether if Colorado were to come in for 2011, if we'd know early enough whether we could have a football championship game in 2011. We are currently analyzing both models -- the NFL style playoff home-field versus the fixed site, the neutral site.
If you were guessing, will Colorado join the conference in 2011 with Utah, or in 2012, per the original agreement?
LS: All indications at the moment are that it will be per the original plan, that they'll come in 2012. But I think the door is not completely shut. From what I understand there is still, I believe, there still may be conversations that are going on. But all indications thus far are that the Big 12 [and] Colorado will not work out the deal for Colorado to come until 2012.
Even bigger than setting up the future logistics of the Pac-12 is the negotiations for a new TV, media package: Where does that stand?
LS: We are on track with the schedule we anticipated. We always envisioned wanting to decide what we're going to do in terms of expansion before the end of this year. Obviously we are well in advance of that timetable. Our exclusive negotiating periods with our incumbent partners ESPN-ABC on the one hand, and Fox on the other hand, start in early 2011. So we're in the midst of doing a lot of strategy work, planning and our due-diligence. We are also, as I've said before, in the midst of building a business plan for a Pac 12 network. It's on course for it [the negotiating] all to start in early 2011.
Obviously, a Pac-12 Network is an option: What do you know about how that potentially could look at this point?
LS: We are working very closely with our outside media advisers from Creative Arts Agency, which has a vast experience in developing business plans for networks and operating networks. There are different combinations and permutations for how you might program it, and what the structure of it might be, and what the economics of it might be. There are just lots of different scenarios. Some of that would obviously be influenced by our partner that we might work with. We're not having discussions with potential partners yet. But we're developing various scenarios that would be feasible.