NCF Nation: Larry Scott

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The box score Saturday morning will show that No. 2 Oregon won the Pacific-12 Conference championship game by embarrassing No. 7 Arizona 51-13. It will tell the early-to-bed reader that Oregon gained 627 yards of total offense and that quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for two touchdowns and ran for three. If he had an ounce of showdog in him, Mariota would have struck a Heisman pose before he left the wet Levi's Stadium grass.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman, Jared Tevis
AP Photo/Ben MargotOregon's Royce Freeman evaded Arizona's Jared Tevis during a first half in which the Ducks struggled to get going.
If you didn't see the game, you would surmise the Ducks dominated a top-10 team on their way to coach Mark Helfrich's first conference championship, a 12-1 record and an all-but-official invitation to the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual semifinal of the first College Football Playoff.

All of that is true, as far as it goes. But the truth is, Oregon needed nearly the entire first half to figure out how to get out of its own way. The statistics won't show how the Ducks overcame their early offensive mistakes (10 first-half penalties!) and the rain-slick conditions.

"Offensively, we were a little bit tight," said Helfrich, the second-year coach. "A bunch of guys that were trying to make it 42-0 on two plays, and that's very difficult."

Oregon might have wanted to play well because of the stakes, or to avenge Arizona's 31-24 victory on Oct. 2.

"We had a lot of motivation going into this game," Mariota said. He added later, "I think, overall, the feelings and emotions of the game kind of got to us a little bit."

Pacific-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott on Friday hailed the College Football Playoff as a vast improvement over the old poll-and-computer-driven system. Speaking before the conference championship game, Scott pointed out that the selection committee, unlike the voting coaches and media members, actually watches the games.

For a while there, the entire Pac-12 had to hope the selection committee switched over to the MAC championship, or "Shark Tank" or "A Very Grammy Christmas" -- anything but the exhibition staged before 45,618 on a drizzling, misting night.

"I was pounding the table up in the box," Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "Honestly, we should have had a bigger lead earlier. I give a ton of credit to them. If you watch tape of them in the red zone, their defense is really good."

But once the Ducks settled down, they made quick work of the Wildcats. The Mariota who came out of the locker room at halftime, the one who completed all 10 of his third-quarter passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, is the Heisman guy.

The Wildcats' defense hung in there for some time, but in the end, there's no sugarcoating the its performance. That's the worst any team has played in a meaningful postseason game since Nebraska trailed Miami 34-0 at halftime of the 2001 BCS championship game. Though they trailed only 23-0 at the half, the Wildcats might have outdone the Huskers.

The Arizona that gained at least 450 yards in nine of its 12 games didn't board the flight from Tucson, Arizona. These Wildcats produced 25 yards and two first downs in the first half.

"Well, they played well. We didn't," coach Rich Rodriguez said. Terse may be an understatement. "Outcoached us, outplayed us, did a nice job. We didn't execute well."

The fifth of six consecutive three-and-outs in the first half captured the ineptitude. It began when DaVonte' Neal ran forward to catch a short punt near midfield, smacked into a teammate and went down like he had been decleated. The offense followed with a sack and another sack. On third down, freshman quarterback Anu Solomon avoided a sack by being called for intentional grounding.

By halftime, the Wildcats had lost the game. By the second half, center Steven Gurrola had lost his cool, getting ejected for fighting. His backup, Carter Wood, appeared to lose his lunch at one point just as he snapped the ball, which pretty much summed up the Wildcats' performance.

Solomon, who has battled injuries over the past few weeks, didn't play well in the first half and didn't play at all in the second. His backup, Jesse Scroggins, threw a 69-yard touchdown in the third quarter when the Ducks secondary blew a coverage. Scroggins' backup, Jerrard Randall, ran for a 25-yard touchdown on the game's final play.

Arizona played so poorly that it may have jeopardized what appeared to be a shoo-in bid to the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl. That would have reverberations all the way down the Pac-12's bowl lineup. The long view will say Arizona still won 10 games for only the third time in its history. And maybe the long view will diminish focus on what was an awful night for the Wildcats.

After a slow start, it turned out to be a championship night for the Ducks.
With Ole Miss losing for a second time, the College Football Playoff selection committee will soon offer some insight as to the volatility of its weekly rankings. Even Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott seems unsure about what to expect.

Will the committee simply move No. 5 Oregon into Ole Miss' slot at No. 4? The Ducks certainly didn't do anything to hurt their cause by blasting nemesis Stanford 45-16 on Saturday. Idle Alabama probably won't jump from No. 6 into the top four yet, but beating LSU on Saturday might do the trick. And what about No. 7 TCU, which comes off a 31-30 win against No. 20 West Virginia? Can the Horned Frogs make a big leap after their win in Morgantown?

When the Big Ten suffers through a Saturday like this past one, it's only natural to extrapolate about the state of the league. Because this isn't just an isolated incident.

Mama clearly was talking about the Big Ten when she said there'd be days like this.

Remember Week 2 in 2012, when the league went 6-6 and 1-6 against Power 5 teams and Notre Dame? Saturday felt like a flashback. While the league's Week 2 record this season was better (8-5), it ended on a stinkier note with three double-digit losses in national showcase prime-time games. No one can forget New Year's Day in 2011, when the Big Ten played a record five bowl games and lost them all.

When is the last time the Big Ten actually had a great day? Midway through the Michigan State-Oregon game, a colleague in Eugene, thinking about possible story angles, asked about the Big Ten's biggest wins since 2007. The two Rose Bowl wins (Ohio State in 2010, Michigan State in 2014) jumped out along with Iowa's Orange Bowl win, Michigan's Sugar Bowl win and Ohio State's since-vacated Sugar Bowl win. But I had a hard time identifying a truly significant regular-season nonconference victory, one that resonated nationally. The colleague ended up writing about Oregon.

There's a pattern here. Anyone who thinks it's just ESPN spin or a cyclical low point is in denial. Saturday was a bad day, but it's part of a bad decade. There's no other way to present it.

"I look at the big picture, in part," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told me Sunday. "I recognize we haven't won a championship since '02. I look at it in that way. I see the narrative, and if we had two or three [big games], we'd be feeling better.

"We're not feeling very good, but the facts are the facts."

Some Big Ten fans attach the league's shortcomings to Delany, which I don't understand. They say he chases the money more than trying to improve the football product. How do record revenues and unprecedented TV exposure hurt football? It doesn't unless schools fail to use those resources correctly. You might not like Maryland and Rutgers, but Big Ten teams should like the recruiting areas surrounding their campuses.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State wasn't the only Big Ten team to take a hard tumble and big loss in Week 2.
After Saturdays like this past one, though, it's natural to wonder whether the league could do more. Does the Big Ten need a fresher approach in branding, recruiting or scheduling? Should the league push football as a bigger priority rather than sticking to its broad-based philosophy? Maybe it's time Delany assembles the football coaches and athletic directors, admits there's a problem and begins solving it.

Then again, perhaps that's not Delany's role.

"I do what I can do, which is do my job," Delany said. "Each athletic director does his or hers, and each coach does his. We talk a little bit about what's a good TV approach, what’s a good bowl approach. People develop stadiums. They recruit based on academic standards and where they believe they’re strong.

"I'm comfortable with how we're doing it. I would just like to have more success. I don't have a magic wand or a special idea."

Mike Slive is a very good commissioner, but he's not the driving force behind the SEC's football success. The schools are. He doesn't tell SEC programs how to coach, recruit or invest. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is a dynamic, innovative thinker, but he's a former pro tennis player. He's not telling Mark Helfrich and David Shaw how to run their programs.

"You talk about bowls and you talk about schedules and playing good opponents, but it’s really not about building a football team," Delany said. "That's done locally. The conference provides certain structure for discussion, not whether you're in the spread [offense] or you're recruiting Florida or California. We don't do that in any of our sports.

"I doubt very much whether Alabama and Florida talk about it, or UCLA and Stanford. These institutions are naturally competitive, and how they build their programs is naturally competitive."

I get that, but it might be time that Big Ten schools acknowledge their collective problem -- always the first step -- and try to find collective solutions, especially in recruiting. Coaches have diverse backgrounds and observe the national landscape. Some Big Ten programs will be developmental in nature, but it doesn't mean recruiting strategies can't change a little. Would a group discussion about where you recruit, whom you recruit, certain positions and, gasp, academic standards be so bad?

I've always admired the Big Ten's approach to revenue sharing. The idea is to get all ships to rise. Perhaps it's time to extend that philosophy to football. Because days like Saturday drag down the entire league and devalue the league race, which could hurt come playoff selection time.

Delany might lack a magic wand, but if the Big Ten comes together and brainstorms how to fix football, its tired act on the field could start to change.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby pursed his lips at college football on Monday and announced that "cheating pays." He warned his quaking audience of reporters that NCAA "enforcement is broken." His conference made a mistake by not including ominous organ music to punctuate his remarks.

A week before, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, after quoting Muhammad Ali, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, among others, sternly informed the media that the NCAA better provide the Big Five conferences autonomy so they can do what they want.

Or else.

ACC commish John Swofford went with snark. Hey, NCAA, he said, "The good ship Status Quo has sailed." If embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert were on stage, Swofford, the likely winner if the Big Five commissioners competed in a cage fight, would have given him a wedgie.

[+] EnlargeScott
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was all sunshine and smiles as he opened the Pac-12 media days Wednesday.
You can be sure when the Big Ten's maestro of dour, Jim Delany, takes the stage Monday, he will opt for a most vigorous finger shake at the NCAA after he references several important historical figures, so as not to yield any highfalutin ground to Slive and the SEC.

Ah, but out here on the lovely West Coast, we are more sunny. In contrast to his Grinch-like colleagues, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was positively ebullient as he addressed his gathered media throng. The Pac-12, he told us, is ... awesome. Pac-12 football? It's awesome, too. College football in general? While there are important challenges and changes ahead, it's, well, awesome!

"While I understand the concerns of my colleagues that have been expressed -- we've heard some doomsday and some threats over the last week," Scott said. "I am very confident and optimistic about where college sports is going and some of the recent reforms that we are seeing."

Curiously, the Big Five commissioners are pretty much on the same page and are almost certain to get what they want when the NCAA votes on granting them more autonomy in August. There is a general agreement among the Big Five on goals and how things will move forward. This contrast, then, was more about style and presentation. While other commissioners glowered, Scott and the Pac-12 went with the, to borrow a phrase from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "let's not bicker and argue about who killed who ... this should be a happy occasion," approach.

Of course, Scott has reasons to be cheerful as he lauded his conference in Hollywood, "the entertainment capital of the world," and celebrated its new neutral site conference championship game at sparkly Levi's Stadium in Silicon Valley, "the innovation capital of the world."

His conference welcomes back 10 starting quarterbacks and an average of 15 starters per team. Several teams are worthy of a preseason rankings, including national-title contenders Oregon and UCLA. Further, there is an impressive handful of Heisman Trophy contenders, led by Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"We had a record nine teams qualify for bowl games last season, the most in our history," Scott said. "Put simply, our conference has never been stronger or deeper than it is today, and that's why I'm filled with so much optimism as we look forward to the upcoming season."

Scott's address, which featured 4,400 words according to the official transcription, didn't mention the Pac-12 Network's inability to strike a deal with DirectTV. Scott was all about the positive. That included celebrating 10 new national titles -- though none in revenue-producing sports -- and lauding the conference's academics and programs for student-athlete welfare, noting the conference would invest $3.5 million in research aimed at improving the health and safety of athletes.

Scott's jauntiness was not without motive, which was notable as he gently chided the media to "resist the temptation to oversimplify these issues" brought to the public eye by the Ed O'Bannon versus the NCAA trial. He and the other commissioners, after all, are trying to pacify an athletic revolt, a storming of the NCAA's Bastille, if you will. While excited about potential reforms to college sports, Scott also again expressed concern about "radically changing the collegiate model into a professional model."

"From my vantage point, college athletics is working exceedingly well," said Scott, who is the highest paid conference commissioner, hauling in over $3 million in 2011-12, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Did Scott mention that the Pac-12 won 31 nonconference games, most in conference history, and went 6-3 in bowl games? But of course he did.

Scott was followed to the podium by Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, who immediately made the typically grumpy media feel right at home again.

Said Rodriguez, "I could be like every other coach in America and tell you how excited I am to be here, but that would be lying. Truth is, I'd rather still be on vacation or meeting with my coaches."

Rodriguez apparently didn't get the memo that everything, including Pac-12 media days, is awesome.

Pac-12 media days live: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
Pac-12 media days kick off in Los Angeles Wednesday. Keep this page open beginning at noon ET/9 a.m. PT as reporters bring you the latest from the day's proceedings. Scheduled to appear Wednesday are players and coaches from Arizona Wildcats, California Golden Bears, USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Washington State Cougars and Utah Utes, as well as commissioner Larry Scott.

Video: Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott

May, 16, 2014
May 16

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott talks about moving the Pac-12 title game to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.

PHOENIX -- The overriding message coming out of Pac-12 meetings is that major changes in college football governance are now inevitable, even if the details and long-term consequences of those changes remain unclear.

The Big Five conferences will meet in August and almost certainly obtain a new autonomy level within the NCAA structure. At that point, major rules changes, including those that significantly bolster the support and benefits provided to athletes, will start to be formulated. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott intimated that things could move fairly quickly thereafter, so his message to conference coaches and athletic directors was basically to buckle up.

"Quickly is a relative concept, but deadlines are good," Scott said. "I think if we get the autonomy that we've asked for, the commissioners will be setting out a very aggressive timetable to put proposals out ... I expect we'll have a very intensive process over the next four months -- September through December -- where practitioners from our campuses are working on different agendas, including those with a deadline of January, specific proposals that can be voted upon by the 65 schools [in the Big Five]."

So "quickly" might mean?

"The goal is to implement whatever changes we're going to implement for the 2015-16 year," Scott said.

Chief among those would be cost of attendance scholarships, which could vary significantly by team and conference. Scott, however, noted that doesn't create a massive change of direction and complication because the pure value of tuition scholarships also vary by team and conference.

What does need to be implemented to prevent any fudging is a clear formula that all 65 schools apply to calculate the new value of their cost of attendance scholarships.

"I don't think it will that big of a deal, but there will be issues to work through in terms of a common method of determining the full cost," Scott said.

There is a significant degree of consensus within the Big Five conferences for adopting the cost of attendance scholarships, and it appears there is unanimity within the Pac-12.

"These are a lot of things that are going to be costly for us but I think are necessary and in line with what I believe we should be doing for our student-athletes," said Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, echoing other conference ADs.

While Scott was unwilling to admit that the Northwestern football union challenge and Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA were driving the oncoming changes, he did concede the legal challenges to the NCAA governance structure and the publicity surrounding them weren't too far from administrators' minds.

"Is it some of these external challenges driving it? I would say no. There's been a recognition for some time [about these issues]," Scott said. "But I'd say external pressures bring a helpful focus and helpful push to get these things done."

[+] EnlargeLevi's Stadium
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLevi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, could be the new home of the Pac-12 championship game as well.
As for the other major item on the Pac-12 agenda, it was more based on the West Coast: The location of the 2014 Pac-12 championship game. There were earnest discussions over the two days about changing it from a game hosted by the conference's top team to a neutral site, specifically the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara, California.

While the potential move was an intriguing idea, it also isn't a done deal.

"I think there was a lot of positive feeling about it," Scott said. "Some objected. There are some pros and cons."

Said Moos: "Personally, I think [Levi's Stadium] is the way to go."

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden: "I think the current model has actually worked pretty well, the home host. I know the CEOs are debating that and discussing that. I don't think any decision has been made. Quite honestly, at USC, we don't mind the home-host model because we think we've got a chance of hosting."

Shrugged Washington's Scott Woodward: "I'm ambivalent. I trust the league and what they want to do. I have no problem one way or the other."

If the title game is going to be played in the new 49ers stadium on Dec. 5, a decision almost certainly would be announced in June, when the Pac-12 presidents meet.

"If we are going to make the move, it wouldn't be later than that," Scott said.

So it appears that the summer, once a quiet time for college football news, will be anything but that this year.

PHOENIX -- As has been typical in recent years, there's a lot going on in college football, even in May. So there will be plenty to talk about when Pac-12 coaches and athletic directors get together with commissioner Larry Scott over the next two days at the posh Arizona Biltmore Hotel.

While there will be plenty of housecleaning issues -- such as reviews of officiating and the reduction of contact in practices -- Scott acknowledged there were two areas for which he expects the most curiosity and discussion: NCAA governance reform and the new College Football Playoff.

"We'll obviously spend a good amount of time on that," he said.

The simple answer before the meetings begin is that the Pac-12 is in favor of both, even if some conference coaches believe the SEC didn't act in good faith when it opted to give itself an annual advantage by continuing to play only eight conference games. The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine, and the Big Ten will play nine in the future.

"The way the system works is every conference can make their own decision," Scott said.

[+] EnlargeLarry Scott
AP Photo/Jae C. HongPac-12 commissioner Larry Scott expects a lot of discussion about the future of the NCAA and the College Football Playoff at the league meetings this week.
Scott said he believes, however, that the emphasis on strength of schedule by the selection committee will end up favoring the Pac-12.

"What we've done, along with my other conference colleagues, is really significant -- we have stipulated that strength of schedule is going to be a critical component in sorting teams at the end of the season," he said. "No conference has stronger strength of schedule than we have."

Last year, the Pac-12 played the four toughest schedules in the country and eight of the top 13. Every conference team's schedule ranked among the nation's 42 toughest schedules. By way of comparison, Alabama's strength of schedule was ranked 47th and national champion Florida State's schedule was ranked 62nd.

The Pac-12 also figures to show a united front in favor of significant NCAA governance reform as it applies to the five major conferences and against the idea of athletes unionizing and being termed employees.

"We're absolutely supportive of having more flexibility with the five conferences to do more for student-athletes," Scott said. "At the same time, we think unionization is the wrong answer. We don't see student-athletes as employees. We think that would be a misguided take."

That position won't have to be sold to many athletic directors or coaches, but a few are curious about how the logistics will work out.

"I'm interested to find out where this meal thing is going and what it might mean and where we are with the stipend," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I'm in that viewpoint that we need to really examine ways we can help these kids -- any way we can without getting into that world of paying salaries for players."

After these two major topics, the conference will review the Pac-12 title game, which will be played on Dec. 5 this year, another Friday night contest after the game was played on Saturday this past season in front of an (almost) packed house at Arizona State. Playing on Friday night is popular with no one -- other than Fox, which chose the date -- so that might inspire some grumbling. Two years ago at Stanford, the Friday night kickoff was an unmitigated disaster in terms of attendance.

While Scott said most are happy with the No. 1 seed hosting the game, there will be some give and take over potentially different formats.

"We feel good about our model, but we'll always look at options," he said. "We've got a lot of great NFL venues in the footprint. That's something we'll definitely look at as well."

One thing that won't get talked about, at least not in terms of advancing any positive agenda, is DirecTV, which continues to not broadcast the Pac-12 Network. Scott said there has been no advancement in the often contentious negotiations.

Meanwhile, more than a few athletic directors will be watching DirecTV's negotiations with the fledgling SEC Network.

3-point stance: Larry Scott's climb

November, 5, 2013
1. It comes as no surprise that the Pac-12 presidents offered commissioner Larry Scott a new contract through the end of the 2017-18 academic year. All Scott has done is taken a perfectly respectable conference and turned it into a financial powerhouse, and the results have shown up on the football field. But I would be gobsmacked if Scott stayed for the next four-plus years. Scott strikes me as a climber always looking for another mountain. And I don’t mean that in a negative way.

2. You can measure Baylor’s rise to national significance in a lot of different ways, from being the nation’s most prolific offense (70 points, anyone) to No. 6 to being a 14-point favorite over long-time tormentor No. 10 Oklahoma. In the 17 years of the Big 12, the Bears have won once, the 45-38 victory when RG3 threw a touchdown pass with :08 to play. But the biggest measure may be that on Thursday night, the tarps that regularly cover portions of 50,000-seat Floyd Casey Stadium are being removed.

3. No. 21 UCF could all but clinch the American at home Saturday by defeating Houston. The Knights and the Cougars are the last two unbeaten teams in league play. With a victory, UCF would have head-to-head victories over the two one-loss teams (No. 20 Louisville is the other) in the league with the best record. Of UCF’s remaining four opponents, only Rutgers (5-3) has a winning record. The American hasn’t been ready for Blake Bortles, announced Monday as a Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist. We may find out if America is.

Happy Halloween in the Pac-12

October, 31, 2013
The Pac-12 has its share of ghosts, ghouls and goblins. So in the spirit of the Halloween weekend ...

Scary movie -- Worst loss of the season: Washington headed to Arizona State ranked 20th, with national pollsters being forgiving of consecutive, competitive losses to Stanford and Oregon. A shocking 53-24 beatdown delivered by the Sun Devils, and the Huskies were dumped from the national rankings. The new storyline was a familiar one: Another seven-win season?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Ducks rocked Tennessee, 59-14, in the "biggest debacle of the season."
Rising from the dead: Oregon State surely was headed for the slag heap after it opened with a 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. The defense looked AWFUL. Fire Mark Banker! Fire Mark Banker! Panic in the streets of Corvallis! After all, we'd seen this before.The Beavers opened with a loss to Sacramento State in 2011 and then meandered to a woeful 3-9 finish. But the Beavers dusted themselves off and surged to six consecutive wins. Last weekend, they extended Stanford until the waning moments before falling 20-12. With QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks fronting the nation's best passing offense, Oregon State remains a threat in the North Division.

Haunted House: Arizona State struggles on the road, but it certainly has horrified visitors to Sun Devil Stadium. Of course, we can start with the, er, unusual finish against Wisconsin. Then there's the dismantling of both USC and Washington. Sure, the Sun Devils looked like a different team -- in a bad way -- while losing at Stanford and to Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but visiting foes often leave Tempe with a haunted look.

Thriller: The most exciting Pac-12 game so far this year is Oregon State's 51-48 overtime win at Utah. The Beavers jumped to a 20-7 lead, but the Utes tied things in regulation with a 21-point fourth quarter, including a 9-yard run from QB Travis Wilson for the tying TD on third-and-goal with 21 seconds left in the game. On the Beavers' side of things, QB Sean Mannion converted two critical fourth-down plays in the fourth and then threw the winning TD pass in overtime to, of course, Brandin Cooks.

Nightmare in Eugene -- Biggest debacle of the season: Tennessee took a 7-0 lead at Oregon, and the folks in orange maybe starting thinking about "SEC!" chants. Then the Ducks scored 59 unanswered points by the end of the third quarter. Oregon fans started chanting "We want Bama."

House of horrors: Horrors? We give you USC. The Trojans fired coach Lane Kiffin as he got off the team bus at LAX after a 62-41 beatdown at Arizona State, and they have suffered through epidemic injuries that are even worse for a team crippled by scholarship reductions. Meanwhile, the program has watched as the NCAA reduced Penn State's sanctions and provided a reprieve for Miami, which overlooked the scandalous doings of now-incarcerated booster Nevin Shapiro while under the leadership of late athletic director Paul Dee, who chaired the Committee of Infractions against USC.

Cursed team: California, losers of 10 consecutive Pac-12 games, might be headed for its worst season since the regrettable Tom Holmoe Era. Start with one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Then move on to a roster decimated by injuries. The Bears have been slow to adjust to new schemes on both sides of the ball, and they presently ranked last in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Halloween costumes
Larry Scott had already put check marks to a pair of major to-dos: getting the new network up and running and putting a conference championship game in place.

All the while, he also knew there was an underlying issue that will eventually change the way football is played in this country: head injuries. And Scott wanted his league out in front of it. But he didn’t know the best tack. Then at a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last December, Scott started hearing about the studies they were doing in the league and their involvement with USA Football and the “Heads Up Football” initiative.

“I think that meeting really caused me to reflect on whether we were doing enough as a conference and whether we could be doing more,” Scott said. “There had been so much discussion nationally, but when myself and a few other commissioners met with Roger Goodell, that was really a pivotal moment.”

[+] EnlargePatrick Larimore
Scott Sewell/Icon SMIUCLA LB Patrick Larimore retired from football after suffering at least seven concussions.
It was also the genesis for the league’s new limited-contact policy in practice, which is officially in effect for the 2013 season. Following that December meeting, Scott consulted with Pac-12 the school presidents, athletic directors and coaches and they began to hammer out ideas for how they could reduce head trauma.

“There was no resistance from coaches on the idea,” Scott said. “They all believe it’s the right thing to do. We had a lot of debate and discussion on what the policy should be. They are all doing less than they’re entitled to do anyway and they are all very consciences. They supported the idea of us taking the lead on this.”

One of the biggest supporters of the new policy no longer plays football. Former UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore, who retired before the 2012 season, says if the policy was in place four years ago, he might still be in the game.

“In practice, this is where you see the majority of the damage occur,” said Larimore, who suffered at least seven concussions that he knows about. “There were definitely numerous occasions throughout my career where you start practice with a hitting drill or a circuit of hitting drills. When you do that throughout the course of a year, you can really add to the toll and the wear on the head.”

Larimore, UCLA's 2011 defensive MVP who probably would have gotten some NFL looks, is instead getting ready to launch an online platform where anyone who has suffered head injuries can come and share their stories. His site, [sic] is scheduled to launch next week.

Other conferences have concussions on their radar. The Big Ten joined up with the Ivy League last year for a joint study and earlier this week threw its support behind Heads Up Football. But the Pac-12 is the only league to have an actual mandate that limits the amount of hitting that can be done during practice.

“I think a lot of schools and conferences are going to look at what we’re doing,” Scott said. “I’d be surprised if a year from now, before the 2014 season, you don’t see other conferences adopt a similar policy.”

It’s been noted since Scott announced the policy at the Pac-12 Media Day that most schools across the country are already following similar practices. The Pac-12 is just the first to make it an official mandate.

“I think everybody is a winner in this because this is about player safety and educating our players and we are taking the proper steps so that player safety is No. 1,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “We have seen the NFL take the lead and we see the Pac-12 lead that in college football.”

All this comes too late for Larimore, who took a medical retirement during training camp a year ago and graduated from UCLA in the fall. He continues to suffer from the effects of his head injuries -- though he didn’t want to get into specifics. He’s taking part in symposiums and hopes to spread the word and encourage others to share their stories through his site.

“Having left football, it’s hard to turn around and point the finger at football,” Larimore said. “I loved it. I still do. It was a big part of my life. I want to help focus on education and spread awareness so others will know.”

There will always be critics who say players know the risk and the dangers of playing football. In so many words, they know what they are getting into. And Larimore concedes that he accepted those risks. But there are also unknowns which the Pac-12’s new policy might help alleviate.

“For a long time there were huge gaps in knowledge. A huge lack of information,” he said. “In some cases, there is no way you know what you’re getting into. I don’t think anybody can point out and plan out every little hit. But every hit matters. It’s cumulative. After one (concussion), you’re more likely to get another one. What about one practice where your trainer forgets to properly put air in your helmet? That’s not knowing what you signed up for.

“What has been known as a concussion and what is currently known as a concussion has dramatically changed within the last few years. A lot of those sub-concussive hits may be real concussions. And I think a lot of time hitting in practice contributes to the damage.”
CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Hitting.

Apparently it happens quite a bit in the game of football. And Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who announced plans last month for a new contact policy in practice, unveiled the details at Friday’s Pac-12 media day.

The policy still has to be certified by the institution’s athletic directors, but the ADs, presidents, chancellors and coaches have all agreed to establish certain practice parameters that go beyond the current limitations set forth by the NCAA. The plan is expected to be in place for the start of the 2013 preseason camps.

Here are some elements of the new policy (paraphrased). You can see the official language here:

  • The Pac-12 defines “Full contact” sessions as any live tackling where players are taken to the ground. Full contact does not include “thud” sessions or “wrapping up” drills where players don’t go to the ground.
  • Pac-12 institutions will have two full-contact practices per week during the regular season.
  • For days in which Pac-12 institutions schedule a two-a-day practice, full contact is only allowed in one of the two two-a-day sessions during preseason camp.
  • During spring ball, there will be eight permissible full-contact practices, but only two per week.
[+] EnlargeNick Forbes
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireCal linebacker Nick Forbes said that the "best tackles are made with good form."
These rules aren’t anything drastic. In fact, most institutions have adopted similar policies. The Pac-12 is just the first conference to make it official and put it in writing.

“I think our league and about every coach in the country has went to those guidelines anyway, if not even less contact than that,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Because as a coach, you have to be concerned about the welfare of your team and you know your team and you know how beat up you are and what you have to do and how hard you have to work on hitting and what you have to do.

“So I think everybody has worked hard on it and I think most of the coaches in our league and most throughout the country are already kind of doing that anyway.”

In coming to a consensus on the new policy, the league talked with medical practitioners, conference athletic directors and Pac-12 athletes.

“Our coaches support the new parameters, and their feedback helped us strike an important balance that limits contact across all seasons, but allows for our teams to be sharp and compete at the highest level,” Scott said.

Speaking of hitting ...

Besides the contact policy, the new national “targeting” rule that could lead to player ejections was also a hot topic among some of the league’s premier defensive players. Here’s a sampling of what some of the players had to say, which ranged from delicate to defiant:

Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov: “We’ve been trained to hit properly. Football is an aggressive sport and I’m going to keep playing the way I play, and it’s part of the nature of the game … we’re going to play aggressive and do it the right way and if you do that we won’t have any problems with head trauma collisions and I don’t foresee any in the future.”

California linebacker Nick Forbes: “As a defender, the automatic ejection is scary. You don’t want to put yourself or your team in that situation. But fortunately, we were fortunate to have great coaching staffs that teach us the proper technique … the best tackles are made with good form.”

UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr: “I understand the rule, but as a defensive player it’s going to be difficult to fully adjust my game … So as I play, I’m going to play within the rules that I’ve always played and play like I’ve always played, full speed and attacking. And if I get penalized because of it, then so be it. But I’m going play the way I play football.”

Washington State safety Deone Bucannon: “It’s a rule that’s going to be hard to abide by, going full speed, but at the same time, whatever helps player safety. So if that’s what the rule is, then I’m going try as a player to, to the best of my ability, abide by those and to be as safe as possible for the other player and myself. I’m going to be more aware on the field and proper adjustments like I should.”
Larry ScottAP Photo/Jae C. HongLarry Scott criticized the NCAA's recent rulings and called for fans to drop DirecTV.
CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Commissioner Larry Scott came out swinging at Pac-12 media day, giving the NCAA a couple of stiff jabs and DirecTV a haymaker.

Scott showed there was general unity among the commissioners in the big five conferences -- along with the Pac-12, the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC -- that there is widespread impatience with the NCAA, its administration, rules and inefficiency.

"It's clear right now [the NCAA] is at a crossroads," Scott said. "It's time for a new vision."

As for DirecTV, it's all about it not picking up the Pac-12 Network for a second consecutive football season, meaning millions of West Coast subscribers have a choice to make: How important is the Pac-12 Network to them?

"I urge our fans that are intent on not missing their team's games this fall to drop DirecTV and switch to one of the many providers that have it all," Scott said.

Scott and the Pac-12 Network don't seem to be hitting at DirecTV from a position of weakness. The new network turned a profit in its first year of existence and will increase the number of live events this year from 550 to 750.

The Pac-12 set up a website to explain how to drop DirecTV.

As for the NCAA, Scott outlined four "high-priority items":

  • Student-athlete welfare, including health and safety as well as full cost-of-attendance scholarships.
  • On NCAA governance, Scott said, "... it's time to acknowledge that one size does not fit all." Along this line, Scott believes that the the NCAA should lean more on athletic directors and commissioners when administrating college sports and less on college presidents.
  • Scott holds a dim view of NCAA enforcement: "It's fair to say confidence in the enforcement process is at an all-time low."
  • Finally, Scott believes one-and-done in college basketball should be ended.

While Scott's broadside might seem to make NCAA president Mark Emmert's precarious footing even weaker, he was conciliatory in terms of envisioning Emmert being part of the solution.

"I spoke to president Mark Emmert this week," Scott said. "I was delighted to see yesterday that he announced plans to call a summit in January to discuss exactly what that change should look like."

Scott also backed away from some of the recent talk about the big schools breaking away from the NCAA.

"The current discussion we have heard this week," he said, "... is too radical and too narrow at the same time. The answer ... is not to break away but to evolve into something better."

Of course, that push to evolve includes the notion of survival of the fittest, and the implication that the NCAA at present isn't terribly fit.
The Pac-12 blog chatted with commissioner Larry Scott on Thursday, and here's what he had to say before he officially met with the media Friday, kicking off Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles.

It sounds like NCAA reform is a huge topic with all the conference commissioners. What are the chief areas where you think the NCAA needs to change?

Larry Scott: The first thing I would say is it's really not limited to the five big conferences. I know that's what's gotten the most exposure. Honestly, it's been a topic of conversation across most divisions. We all met in early June, 31 commissioners of different conferences, and everyone is talking about NCAA governance and the reform movement under Mark [Emmert] -- what people like about it and what people don't like about it. I think it's fair to say there is a collective sense that everyone would like to see a different governance structure that was not exclusively presidents, who are not involved in athletic day-to-day, making the final decisions on things. People would like to see more flexibility for the high resource schools. Let's say the five big conferences but it might not be limited to them. To have more flexibility to do the things we want to do. We're the ones playing against each other most often. We're the ones bringing in the most resources. Taking care of student-athletes better is something we all want to do. I think there is a collective sense we want to see more aggressive restructuring of enforcement. There are a lot of black eyes for the NCAA in college sports. Those are three things that are concrete that I think we'd all like to see some change on.

There are two things we talk about when we talk about getting athletes some money. There's cost of attendance, which means all of your scholarship athletes in all your sports are going to get a stipend, from crew to football. Then there's the notion of paying the revenue sports athletes -- football is making so much money -- of letting them share in the millions being raked in. That they deserve to be paid something special. Lots of talk about that, but it seems to forget Title IX. Is there a loophole in that where football players can be paid more than other athletes, and where does the Pac-12 stand on that?

LS: From my perspective, we are talking about across the board, all athletes. For those of us advocating for more resources for student-athletes, we're not advocating for it on the basis of their bringing in the money so they deserve it. We're advocating for it on the basis that the schools have the resources to do more to support student-athletes -- academically, health and welfare and financially. All student-athletes. Now, football will disproportionately benefit because you have 85 scholarship athletes. No other sport is anything close. But no one is thinking about this in terms of paying student-athletes for their performance.

It's not a purely business, revenue model …

LS: No. And I think that is a really important distinction of principle there.

[+] EnlargeLarry Scott
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 commissioner Larry Scott believes "we've come to the end of a cycle" in realignment among the big five conferences.
Everyone used to want to ask you about expansion. Now it's the potential breakaway from the NCAA of the major conferences. Is there any momentum behind the idea if the NCAA doesn't get it together in a way that works for you guys, the Pac-12, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC?

LS: No. I think that conversation this past week was way overcooked. I don't think there's any of us approaching this from the perspective of breaking away. I think people are focused on what the end result is that they think we will need, which is about governance reform, more flexibility on policies, improved enforcement scenarios and some other things. I believe from evolution that can still happen as part of the NCAA. Part of the big tent. I don't think it's that complicated.

The USC verdict, there was some grumpiness about how severe it was, how unfair and unjustifiable the NCAA penalties were. Did you feel happy with how things went down with Oregon? Did the NCAA handle that case better and the school was treated fairly?

LS: Looking in the rearview mirror, I still feel USC was treated unfairly. I said it at the time, even though I had only started as commissioner. At the end of the day, I think the Oregon case, as the school said, it was an OK result. Something that they were OK moving on with. I was disappointed it took so long. I was disappointed that for a year and a half they had to operate under a black cloud of accusation and they weren't allowed to explain their side of the story. That in and of itself was a big penalty. For a variety for reasons, some of which I can't discuss, it should have been handled expeditiously. It was not that complicated of a case.

One of the big initiatives you guys announced -- with a certain amount of pride, it seemed to me -- was limiting contact in football practices. Has there been any negative blowback on that from coaches, about whether it might hurt the quality of football on Saturdays? And are there more tangible guidelines now?

LS: That's something we will be announcing [Friday]. You've got to buy your ticket for admission. (Laughs.)

What about the hitting? Football is a violent, collision sport…

LS: Football is a collision sport, sometimes violent. Everyone accepts that, and no one is going to change the nature of football. A lot of our thinking about having a policy that goes further than the NCAA does in terms of limiting contact is coming from our coaches. As we've been talking to our coaches about this for months, it's clear they've already self-imposed restrictions on hitting because they are very mindful of having their players healthy, having their players safe and having longevity. Our coaches are very evolved in their thinking. They've been instrumental in adopting this policy. So there hasn't been pushback.

Officiating reform. Folks are alway going to complain about officiating. You guys have done some things to make it better. But it still doesn't seem Pac-12 officiating is consistent. I hear that from fans but also from coaches. How is that progressing?

LS: I've been around officiating a long time. I don't think perfection is attainable. There will always be mistakes. To answer your question, what I focus on is constant improvement and how do we measure up against other conferences. Based on those two measures -- and this doesn't mean you don't strive to be the best you can be -- but based on those two realistic goals, I think we've made tremendous progress, particularly in football. I think [officiating coordinator] Tony Corrente has come in and done a fantastic job -- restructuring our program, hiring better officials, holding them to a higher standard, having more consistency, using more technology -- across the board. I absolutely think it's improved. The people I talk to nationally that evaluate all the conferences think we are right there with anyone else out there. Do I feel satisfied? No. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied. But I'm a big supporter of Tony and what he is doing.

Ivan Maisel told me you said on his podcast that if the Pac-12 championship game, with the No. 1 seed being the host model, if that has attendance issues like it did at Stanford -- and let's face it, that was a confluence of negative events, with Bay Area rush hour traffic on a Friday that had featured torrential rain -- but if it continues to struggle with attendance, you'd entertain going to a neutral site game. What's your thinking there?

LS: We knew we were creating something new with the conference championship game. And our conference is not like any other conference. We're not a driving conference. We're not the SEC, we're not the Big 12, where you can plunk this game down in a central, neutral site where people can drive to it. Even the Big Ten's got that, though less so now since their recent expansion. I really believe our unique model of the home-hosted championship is the right one for us in terms of getting the best crowds and rewarding the team and their fan base for having the best record. And not having those fans buy another airline ticket and create a choice between going to the championship game or a bowl game. I really believe in my bones this is the right thing for us long term. The first year it felt like a good choice. It was not a great matchup but it was sold out. But last year's game caused me to pause. I still believe we have the best model, but I'd be the first to say that if it's not working over a period of time -- if we have more years like Stanford last year -- I'll be the first to say let's look at a different model. Because we've got people knocking down our door wanting to host a neutral-site championship game, up and down the conference. We've got plenty of options. It's been us resisting, even though there are some advantages -- knowing where it's going to be, being able to plan -- but we're going to give this model some more time before we draw a conclusion.

All quiet on the expansion front. Do you feel like that's done for now across the country?

LS: I do. I think we've run a cycle. All the major conferences have long-term TV deals. All but the SEC have locked up a grant of rights. That means any school that would leave a conference would leave their TV rights behind. That takes away all the financial motivation to leave a conference. That takes away the incentive for a conference to want to acquire a new team. You might see some at the lower levels but I think amongst the big five, we've come to the end of a cycle.

Last question. You knew I would ask it. DirecTV…

LS: I will have more of an update [Friday]. Our folks are in fact going to be speaking to DirecTV again before [media day] so I want to give a real live update tomorrow on that.

So not a definite grumpy no?

LS: We'll talk about that tomorrow.

Pac-12 media day primer

July, 12, 2013
Two weeks and counting. Ted and I are gearing up for media day. Are you? Here's what you should know.

When: July 26

Where: Sony Studios, Los Angeles

Who will be there (all times PT):
UPDATE: Arizona State informed me Friday morning that it has decided to bring Will Sutton instead of safety Alden Darby. This is a good thing because Sutton was the league's defensive player of the year last season, and his presence helps bolster his name -- and the program -- in the eyes of the national media.

Who won’t be there: The biggest name missing is Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who led the nation in rushing last season. Coaches tend to bring veterans and guys with experience. Yankey is a great spokesman for Stanford and a good candidate, but I know others wouldn't mind hearing some thoughts from Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan.

Five storylines:
  1. Hitting? Scott is expected to announce the league's health and safety initiative, which will limit how much hitting can be done in practice. This isn't a new concept, but the league jumped in front of it by being the first to make a conference-wide mandate.
  2. Bowl updates? We know the status of the Rose, Alamo, Holiday, Kraft Fight Hunger and Sun bowls. Not sure if the rest of the lineup for beyond this season will be announced at media day. But one of us will ask.
  3. New coaches: This is the meet-the-world opportunity for the new head coaches in the league: Dykes, MacIntyre and Helfrich. Expect the requisite questions on the difficulty of changing cultures and rebuilding programs.
  4. Preseason poll: Is there any fodder better than preseason polls? Oregon or Stanford? Stanford or Oregon? ASU, UCLA or USC? Your Pac-12 bloggers will be submitting their ballots this weekend after a visit to the Oracle of Delphi, a seance channeling Nostradamus and a dartboard.
  5. Quirky questions: With the access of media day comes the spectacle of media day. Granted, it's not as bad as some of the quirks at Super Bowl media day. But there's bound to be a couple of left-field questions -- and they'll probably be directed at Leach, who is great and usually has fun with them. Last year he was asked which Pac-12 coach he'd go hunting with and which Civil War generals he'd compare some of his players to.

Ted and I will be trying something new this year (we think). Instead of the on-the-stage posts, we'll be doing a live chat during the entire stage session and bringing you info real time. So take note of the times (in Pacific, to save you the math) and be ready to interact.