Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott Discusses Expansion, USC and Asia
LOS ANGELES -- Just imagine the Pac-10 expanding into a 16-member football super-conference that included Texas, Colorado and Brigham Young.
Renamed the Pac-16, the two-division, mega-sized league would not only match up against any conference in the country, it would also leave itself open for a new mega television deal that included a version of the league's own network.
A breakdown of the super-conference would look like this: one division featuring the original Pac-8 schools in USC, UCLA, Stanford, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State, the other division would have Pac-10 holdovers, Arizona and Arizona State, with Baylor, Colorado State and Utah, along with the Longhorns, Buffaloes and Cougars.
A long shot? Probably.
Unrealistic? Not exactly, according to Larry Scott, who took over as Pac-10 Commissioner 10 months ago.
"I'm not going to comment on any individual schools," said Scott, who previously worked six years as chairman and chief executive officer for the Women's Tennis Assocation. "But it is fair to say that talk about expansion has generated interest and people are reaching out to us."
This week, Scott will lead the Pac-10 at its annual conference in Phoenix. In an interview with FanHouse, he talked about the current state of the Pac-10, the possibility of expansion, a conference connection to the Asia Pacific and USC's NCAA investigation.
FanHouse: It's been 32 years since the Pac-10 made any changes (the addition of Arizona and Arizona State in 1978), but expansion talk has been running rampant throughout the country. Scott talked about the Pac-10's stand with this movement.
Larry Scott: We're trying to find what is optimal for us in terms in having the right fit and, as I look across the college landscape, I already see the Pac-10, more than any other conference, of having everything in order in terms of geography, economics and rivalries. The schools are all within four states with two natural rivals in five markets. That connection is very powerful in college, where emotional rivalries matter. That's one of the reasons why there haven't been many changes in the Pac-10. It's a conference that's been well laid out.
Now going forward, we're looking at the value of adding two teams, since that is a requirement by the NCAA in order to have a league championship game. We've been analyzing all of our TV possibilities and having a title game is regarded as a high priority. We're looking to do everything that we can to maximize revenue and exposure for the conference. We're going to try to ascertain whether the addition of even more teams would add value to our current member institutions.
FH: After Scott replaced Tom Hansen as Pac-10 commissioner, he downplayed any talk of expansion at the conference's media day before the start of the 2009 football season. Scott said the Pac-10 is still not committed to expand.
Scott: I don't have an exact answer yet. We are going through an exploratory phase and the result of this exploration will give us an answer. Athletics, well being really important, is subservient to the broader academic mission of the universities. ... It's important not take away any of the conference prestige. That is a critical component as well.
FH: Although a great deal of attention has been given to expansion involving the Big Ten, Scott explained the Pac-10's expansion timeline.
Scott: We started this process well before we had any inkling on whether the Big Ten or anyone else was thinking about expansion.
[The Pac-10] started looking into [expansion] because it had media negotiations coming up and with me being brought in as the new guy. It was expected for me to come in with a fresh set of eyes and look at everything in order to figure out what is viable.
Of course, everyone is paying attention to everyone else. I wouldn't say that what another conference does will dictate what we do, but I would say that it is just an additional factor to be considered.
However, our timing is not driven whatsoever by what the other conferences may do. Our timing is solely connected with our TV/media rights negotiations going forward. ... Whatever we decide to do, we'll go to the market knowing what our product is.
FH: According to reports, in 2008 the Pac-10 was paid $43 million by FOX and ESPN/ABC for its television rights, while the Big Ten conference earned $66 million from the Big Ten Network alone. With the Pac-10's current deal up after the 2011-12 school year, Scott talked about the league's plan heading into upcoming negotiations.
Scott: We will be negotiating our future TV deals over the first half of 2011, therefore, it is important for us by the end of this calendar year to make a final determination whether to expand or not.
We have a great partnership with [FOX and ESPN/ABC] and both have expressed interest in continuing with us. I expect to have discussions with both about becoming long-time partners in the future.
FH: Scott, who as CEO of the WTA signed the largest television contract in the history of women's tennis and also landed a record $88 million sponsorship with Sony Erickson, talked about the Pac-10 forming its own network.
Scott: I personally think it is a very viable option for us. In analyzing this over my first nine months here, the Pac-10 is very well laid out in terms of having a network.
We have two of the biggest markets in the country in L.A. and San Francisco. We also have some very competent programs in certain markets that rival the local pro sports teams and some of them even have their own network.
In our preliminary analysis, a network would have a lot of interest and would be a good model. But, I can't sit here today and say whether we will or won't have a network. We are still in the early stages and we're looking at different models.
FH: When Scott left the WTA, many of the top women players on the tour were sad to see him move on because, according to Venus Williams, Scott had "a special vision and the personality and character and talents and abilities to carry it out." One of his visions for the Pac-10 is for the conference to play a larger role in the Asia Pacific region of the world.
Scott: That's part of my long range goals for the conference. ... The schools in the Pac-10 already have a very strong brand and the sports that the conference excels in, happen to be very popular in Asia, particularly volleyball, gymnastics swimming, tennis and golf. ... Much of my professional life, I've spent marketing pro sports with heavy emphasis on Asia and China. So I see a lot of opportunity there.
But right now, our focus is on marketing our conference in a stronger way in this country. Focusing on our U.S. media deals that will take place next year but I certainly have an eye on future opportunities. They just will take time to develop.
FH: In recent years, USC has been under investigation by the NCAA for lack of institutional control regarding Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo. Whatever decision reached will certainly impact the Pac-10, and Scott talked about the case.
Scott: No one has any inside information on what is going to happen. If they say they know, they really don't. The NCAA has been very vigilant about their process and with confidentiality. ... The committee is going to make a final determination, and I don't have any inclination as to what they are going to decide.
Obviously, it has been a case that has been hanging like a cloud over USC for several years. That's unfortunate for the programs and the student-athletes who have been involved in those programs.
But everyone that I've talked to in the conference believes that it will be a culmination. I don't think anyone feels good about something that takes four years to process. ...
I can't tell you how the Pac-10 will respond until the ruling comes in and the rationale used in coming to the decision.
FH: For decades, the Pac-10 has been a national leader when it comes to success in women's sports and Olympic sporting events. Scott talked about how he planned to expand those sports for the Pac-10.
Scott: It's a game plan in three parts. First, I need to try and generate as much revenue as possible for the members in the conference in order to ease some of the financial pressures on the athletic departments and, hopefully, that is beneficial to a lot of our Olympic and women's sports. That would happen by just flowing more revenue to the schools and helping them in effort to balance their budgets.
No. 2 is to be more aggressive promoting women sports and Olympic sports. We want to make it a priority. To me, it's just a question of resources and paying attention to them. That's something that we will do.
And No. 3, there's been a feeling that sports like volleyball, softball, baseball and even women's basketball, to an extent, have been secondary priorities or afterthoughts. I think in our upcoming [media rights] negotiations we can make those sports a higher priority and give more exposure to these sports.