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Cal Sports Monday Thoughts: Do we all hate Larry Scott now?

When it's the middle of the off-season, that means 1,000 words about the thrilling world of conference administration

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, would you believe that Larry Scott has been Pac-12 commissioner for seven years?! No fooling! It seems like just yesterday that we were celebrating the long overdue departure of Tom Hansen. And it's been five years since the Pac-12's new media deal that seemed to be a gigantic coup at the time.

Things aren't quite so rosy anymore. When you're the head of an entire conference, there's a ton of factions to potentially piss off. You've got your bosses, the chancellors of your member universities. You've got your pseudo-bosses, the athletic directors of each university. You've got all of the other employees at each school's athletic department, most primarily revenue sports coaches. You've got the athletes themselves. And you've got the fans, who are the ones who ultimately pay your salary, however indirectly.

Why do I mention this? Due to various factors, some of those constituencies have started to turn on Larry Scott, as described in a valuable column from Jon Wilner. And as various long standing issues fail to resolve themselves, Scott has been increasingly come under criticism. Here's a quick list of items that Scott has received varying degrees of blow back:

  • Perceived failure to improve quality of referees in one or both revenue sports
  • Increasingly large number of night football games
  • Pac-12 Network regional sites only playing regional content, most primarily the Pac-12 basketball tournaments
  • Satellite camp debacle
  • Weak payout from the Pac-12 network
  • Other Power 5 conferences signing significantly more lucrative TV contracts
  • Good God, the Direct TV failure
Most of the above is directly tied to the Pac-12's media deals - specifically, how much money are they bringing in, and how many eyeballs can they reach? While the new TV deal is a MASSIVE improvement on the old deals in every conceivable way, it's also impossible to deny that the Pac-12 has again fallen behind the main competitors.

How many of the above issues does Larry Scott actually deserve blame for? Here's one man's opinion:


Satellite camp debacle - Mr. Scott clearly reads Bruins Nation, because he discovered that blaming every problem on Dan Guerrero is a full proof strategy. Dan Guerrero: universal scapegoat!


Perceived failure to improve quality of referees in one or both revenue sports - The Ed Rush brou-ha-ha was embarrassing, and I'm still more than a little perplexed that half the Pac-12 routinely sits near the bottom in the total penalties committed category, but I actually think that Pac-12 officials have gotten marginally better over the last few years . . . and don't seem to be meaningfully worse than any other conference. Which rests on the assumption that Scott could make a difference one way or the other, which I'm not convinced of.

Increasingly large number of night football games - When the TV deal was being negotiated, administrators were begging for more money, and Pac-12 fans were begging for as many games as possible to be on TV . . . and also for more money. Scott only did what his direct and indirect bosses wanted. And the number of night games actually did go down a bit (at least, for some teams) this last year after some complaining. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Other Power 5 conferences signing significantly more lucrative TV contracts - I guess Scott could have gotten a better deal initially, but it was virtually inevitable that other conference would sign better deals, in part because they signed them later, with media value still climbing, and in part because there are simply more eyeballs wanting to watch SEC and B1G football. Scott doesn't have any power to change national demographics or make the west coast more football crazy.


  • Pac-12 Network regional sites only playing regional content, most primarily the Pac-12 basketball tournaments
  • Weak payout from the Pac-12 network
  • Good God, the Direct TV failure
These issues are all intertwined, so we'll talk about them all at once.

The simple fact of the matter is that, so far, the concept and subsequent execution of the Pac-12 network has been a failure. It has been a failure in terms of creating revenue for member schools, and it has been a failure for reaching eyeballs. Whether it's because of the DirectTV negotiating failure, or a failure to negotiate good terms with Comcast, athletic departments and fans aren't getting what they were promised when the Pac-12 Network was announced.

I don't want to overstate things - the Pac-12 network is a part of a sea change that is vastly superior to what proceeded it. I have access to more revenue sports broadcasts than before, and access to nearly infinitely more non-revenue content. But clearing an impossibly low bar shouldn't be much cause for celebration.

But still - the Pac-12 Network has not delivered on its promise. Why? Because Larry Scott believed he had waaaay more leverage than he actually did with cable providers. For better or for worse, Pac-12 fans aren't the ravenous content-hungry monsters that other fans are. DirecTV knew this, and Larry Scott didn't, until it was too late.

How much does any of this actually matter?

That's debatable. Pac-12 athletic departments are making less money than most of their East Coast peers. I think it's worthwhile to wonder how much money a typical athletic department actually needs. In Cal's unique case? Probably a lot, because we run a crazy high number of programs and we're paying off massive debt from a virtually mandated stadium retrofit. For most other ADs, the difference between a good TV deal and a great TV deal is paying your coach $5 million rather than $4 million, or between building two palatial practice facilities vs. just one. All of the crazy cash mostly works to highlight the insane disparity of coaches and administrators getting paid 6 and 7 figures while the players are administratively prevented from signing an endorsement deal.

But in a world where money has a high correlation with on-field success, it's hard to deny that the Pac-12 has fallen further behind, and perhaps it didn't need to be this far behind.