Larry Scott to step down as Pac-12 Commissioner

Our long regional nightmare is over.

It’s a joyous day for everyone in this world. We can finally say goodbye to a tyrant and begin the healing process.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott will be moving on this summer.

Scott has been the Pac-12 Commissioner since 2009, so he will have served exactly 12 years at the time of his departure this June.

The Pac-12 has confirmed this decision:

The Pac-12 Conference announced today that following ongoing discussions between its governing executive committee, its presidents and Commissioner Larry Scott, it was mutually agreed that the Commissioner would not seek a new contract. The decision was made well in advance of next year’s contract expiration, in part, to allow a new commissioner to be in place to negotiate and maximize the Conference’s next important long-term media rights agreement.

The Conference and Scott decided it was time for new leadership after his 11-year tenure. Scott’s existing contract is scheduled to expire in June 2022 and it was agreed he will remain in the role until June 30, 2021 to assist in the transition.

The Pac-12 executive committee, including University of Oregon President Michael Schill as chair; Kirk H. Schulz, Washington State University president; and Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington, will immediately commence a national search for Scott’s replacement as commissioner.

Scott’s start with the Pac-12 seemed to be a sign of good things to come for the Conference of Champions, with the expansion of Utah and Colorado to expand the conference footprint. Following that up was the creation of the Pac-12 Network, the first major independent college conference network that was supposed to set up the conference for the 21st century.

But reality soon hit hard. A failed bid at a Pac-16 in hopes of landing Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech fell apart. The Pac-12 Network could not land a deal with DirecTV, the nation’s largest sports TV carrier, greatly reducing the ability for the conference to monetize the network and make it a national player while the SEC and Big Ten Network thrived. Although the Pac-12 did enjoy more nationally televised contests, they were usually stuck in the late night conference window, leading to lower ratings, exposure, and ad revenue for the conference compared to its counterparts.

The original 12-year TV deal that seemed like a boon at the time soon became a trap as sports TV rights became the major profit center mid-decade, leading to the SEC, Big 12, ACC and Big Ten all doubling or tripling their revenue margins beyond the current Pac-12 deal. The Pac-12 Network soon became rumored in stories of deals to try and make money in lieu of sagging advertisement rights, all while housing its media headquarters in one of the most expensive markets on the planet in downtown San Francisco.

Scott isn’t alone to blame. Even with all the cracks forming, the Pac-12 university presidents still chose to extend Scott in 2017, making him the highest paid commissioner in college sports by quite a mile. Scott made $5.4 million a year in pre-pandemic times, and earned over $40 million during his time as Pac-12 commissioner. This would not have happened without the compliance of Pac-12 university presidents who signed onto Scott’s success.

The result has been irrelevance and disrepair. In the seven years since the inception of the College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 has sent two teams to the playoff (Oregon 2015 and Washington 2017) and has not made an appearance in nearly half-a-decade. The Pac-12 Networks furloughed and laid off a majority of its staff during this pandemic, and is still working with a skeleton crew to limp through the Pac-12 basketball season—all while handing conference executives major bonuses.

More importantly, due to the Network’s struggles, conference revenues have been dropping in a time when college sports is generally experiencing major success across the board due to its lucrative TV contracts. A lot of Pac-12 schools have discussed athletic cuts to offset expenditures that were dependent on Pac-12 TV revenue that has lagged expectations.

With a Pac-12 TV deal looming in 2024, the conference is in major need of reformation quickly. Major questions arise for the new commissioner, like how to save the Pac-12 Network, what to do with its next television deal, how to help struggling teams with their athletic revenue woes, and how to make the conference respected again on the national landscape.

Many obstacles lie ahead, but so do many opportunities.