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Q&A: Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott

7/26/2013

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.

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.