Friday, May 8, 2009
Change of guard in Pac-10 won't likely affect BCS
PHOENIX -- The coming change of commissioners in the Pac-10 provided a glimmer of hope for advocates of a college football playoff.
The retirement of Tom Hansen and the hiring of Larry Scott, the leader of the Women's Tennis Association, made some wonder whether the Pac-10 might soften its anti-playoff stance. The questions multiplied when Scott, who takes over in July, said he wanted "to keep an open mind" about expanding the Bowl Championship Series.
The leadership transition created a bit of buzz at the Pac-10's annual spring meetings at a resort here this week, as Hansen wound down his tenure and Scott unofficially made the rounds of meetings and cocktail parties.
Scott, who declined to be interviewed, has made a favorable impression on athletic directors, who used the informal setting to become acquainted with their new leader.
"He has great leadership qualities," Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood said. "Fresh eyes, fresh vision."
But perhaps not a fresh take on the BCS.
"I don't expect (Scott) to come in and advocate revolution," said Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby, chairman of the commissioner search committee. "I think he'll come in and talk to the people in our league and hear a strong message that the BCS -- we're there because we want to be."
The Pac-10 isn't alone. The Big Ten, Big East and Big 12 also rejected an effort last year to turn the much-criticized system for deciding a national champion into a four-team playoff, starting in the 2010 season. The BCS later signed a four-year deal with ESPN, which would seem to forestall any drastic changes through 2014.
But even when things seem settled in the BCS, they aren't.
The Mountain West Conference, a partner in the current deal, has proposed an eight-team playoff. At the same time, Congress has become involved, with some politicians pressing for a playoff.
"I think a lot of people are talking about our proposal and the BCS in general," said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, whose conference coaches met across a hallway from the Pac-10 this week.
People also are talking about the changes that might come when Hansen retires after 26 years as Pac-10 commissioner.
Scott unknowingly fueled some of that talk with his "open mind" comment. He quickly learned that even a seemingly innocuous comment can churn the waters in the BCS.
"I think that was overplayed," Hansen said. "He got snookered a little bit on that. He was trying to say that he wanted to learn more about that and other things, and a couple of writers jumped on that and just wanted to make a story about it."
Bowlsby translated Scott's comment to, "I'm here to learn."
"I wasn't particularly troubled by that," Bowlsby said. "It did sell some papers."
Even if Scott did favor a drastic change, he wouldn't have the power to bring it about on his own. Commissioners can help shape a conference's position, but the ultimate authority belongs to university presidents.
"He'll reflect the position of the Pac-10, and the position of the Pac-10 is that it is very supportive of the bowl system and doesn't see positives in a playoff," Hansen said.
Hansen has long been portrayed as a sidekick to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, a staunch playoff opponent, and as a guardian of the Pac-10's long association with the Rose Bowl. Colleagues within the Pac-10 know Hansen as a strong advocate of women's sports -- Pac-10 schools have won 113 national titles in women's sports, by far the most in the nation.
"Commissioners are like coaches: the longer they're in the public eye, the more people will see the warts," Livengood said. "Tom doesn't have a lot of warts."
The 44-year-old Scott, an All-American tennis player at Harvard, has been called the architect of the WTA's six-year, $88 million title sponsorship with Sony Ericsson, the largest sponsorship in women's sports.
Bowlsby said Scott was able to blend a diverse group of tournaments, sponsors, agents and players into a common entity.
"He put them all in a room and got them singing off the same sheet music," Bowlsby said. "That's the environment in college football. It's the environment in our league."