Chatting with new Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott
Larry Scott took over the Pac-10 after serving as WTA chairman and CEO
A Harvard grad without football ties, Scott caught the 'bug' while in Florida
Here, he discusses the BCS, expansion, TV deals, USC's troubles and more
LOS ANGELES -- Larry Scott spent most of his first day on the new job trying to figure out how the phone worked. He spent most of his first month immersed in a crash course on the inner workings of college sports.
The new Pac-10 commissioner has yet to visit every campus and last attended a college football game more than a dozen years ago, but he's already talking about something called the "West Coast advantage." He can't articulate what it is, exactly -- but it sounds a lot better than East Coast bias.
Scott, who replaced the retiring Tom Hansen on July 1, brings an impressive resume. The Harvard grad spent more than 20 years as a player and executive in professional tennis. Most recently, he served as chairman and CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, where he built his reputation on TV and marketing agreements.
Those strengths are welcome additions in the Pac-10, where, like in other conferences, there's a sense the SEC is pulling away from its rivals, at least in terms of revenue and exposure. What Scott doesn't bring to the job, however, is much knowledge about the business of college sports. Scott says he caught the "big bug" of Florida football while living in St. Petersburg, Fla., the last six years, but the last college football game he attended was Harvard-Yale. "It's a little different from the USC-UCLA rivalry," Scott said, "but it's a big deal in the Northeast."
In the months since being named Hansen's successor, Scott has tagged along with the longtime commissioner to BCS and conference meetings. He's paid courtesy calls to athletic directors like Florida's Jeremy Foley and Texas' DeLoss Dodds. And since taking office July 1, he's begun a whirlwind listening tour at Pac-10 campuses. "I'd be the first one to raise my hand and say there are various issues I've got a learning curve on," Scott said. "I'll take my time to understand those and work my way through it."
Scott says he's already learned enough to know there's "a disconnect" between national perception of the Pac-10's strength, most notably in football, and the reality. "I'm a bit overwhelmed," Scott said, "by the sense that the Pac-10 has untapped potential."
Scott met with a small group of national writers for almost 90 minutes Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles to discuss that issue and more. An abridged version of the session appears here.
Q: You were at the BCS meetings in April. Since then, there have been two Congressional hearings. When you first got the job you said something about being open to certain things, when I think the general consensus is the Pac-10 and the Big Ten and most of the other conferences are happy with the BCS. Can you define the conference's position on that?
Scott: I made the comment that someone like myself gets brought into a position like this to take a fresh look at things. Having said that, the way the stories ran, I thought, was way overblown and sort of reading things into what I said that I certainly didn't intend. ... The Pac-10's position is crystal clear. ... For a lot of reasons, there's a deep and unwavering support for the BCS. And by the way, there's a (BCS television) contract that's going to be fully honored through 2014. So there's no ambiguity about the Pac-10's position right now.
Q: What's the likelihood of a Pac-10 network? There was a story recently about the possibility of the Pac-10 and the ACC or the Big 12 [collaborating in a television network]. Is that reality or just somebody's concept?
Scott: The Big Ten has certainly opened everyone's eyes to how a conference can be successful with its own network. And there's certainly an awful lot of interest in the idea of a network, judging by the way my phone is ringing and people are reaching out. ... I think it's a very real possibility down the road, but to me a network is not an end unto itself.
The goal is to balance desire for revenue, desire for exposure, desire for a marketing platform, not just for football and basketball. ... There are many different ways to achieve that end. The Big Ten went one way, the SEC went another direction. And there may be other alternatives as well, including conferences doing things in more of a collaborative way.
It's early days for us. These are not ripe discussions. There will always be discussions -- it's so important -- but it will not really be ripe for another couple of years because we have existing (TV) agreements and we've got great partnerships in place (ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports Net through 2011-12).
Q: Is there a sense the Pac-10 could be falling behind competitively? When you look at what the SEC has done in the last year, $3 billion contracts with CBS and ESPN, how do you react and respond?
Scott: Staggering, in a positive way. What it said to me was college sports has been undervalued and the Pac-10 is undervalued. And the trends are going in the right direction. To me, it screamed a great opportunity for the Pac-10. If we can put our best foot forward, promote ourselves as best as possible, create as much value as possible, the values in college sports are going up, and we'll be the beneficiaries of that. So I'm thrilled that the SEC has done what it's done, and the Big Ten. I think they've raised the bar for everyone and demonstrated that value is being unlocked.
Q: Is there a sense that rather than waiting until the next TV cycle, you need to get moving now?
Scott: I feel no sense of urgency in that regard. Whatever's going to happen in the next television agreement is going to be a 15-, 20-, 25-year deal, I'm going to predict. It's going to be a very long-term deal that's going to define the conference well into the future.
And what's most important from my perspective is that careful thought be given. I need time to get established, to study our existing partnerships first, to get to know them and to really understand the opportunities and to work on any positioning for the Pac-10. I'm not sure right now we'd get our maximum value right now, if we were in the market right now. So I'm actually very happy at this time to sort of get my bearings, to really learn the marketplace and to take the time and do it right, whether it's with our existing partners or new partners.
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