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Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott to step down at end of June

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott speaks at Pac-12 football Media Day.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott speaks at Pac-12 football media day on July 26, 2017, in Los Angeles.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Larry Scott and the Pac-12 executive committee have mutually agreed to part ways a year before the end of his contract, the league announced Wednesday night.

Scott’s last day as commissioner will be June 30, closing the door on a turbulent 11-year tenure marred by increasing struggles to compete on a national level in football and men’s basketball and the conference’s inability to keep up with its Power Five peers in annual revenue. The latter became an issue in part because of the timing and duration of the league’s media rights deals with Fox and ESPN, signed way back in 2011, and in part because of the Pac-12 Networks never reaching mass distribution.

The decision for Scott to move on comes at a crucial time for the Pac-12, which will be entering new media agreements in the coming years as its current contracts expire in 2023-24. One big question — whether Scott would be negotiating the conference’s financial future a second time — is answered.

“We appreciate Larry’s pioneering efforts in growing the conference by adding new competitive university programs and accelerating the Pac-12 to television network parity with the other conferences,” Oregon President Michael Schill, one of three members of the league executive committee, said in a statement.

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“At one point, our television agreement was the most lucrative in the nation and the debut of the Pac-12 Network helped deliver our championship brand to U.S. and global markets on traditional and digital platforms. That said, the intercollegiate athletics marketplace doesn’t remain static and now is a good time to bring in a new leader who will help us develop our go-forward strategy.”

The Pac-12 will begin a national search for Scott’s replacement, and the plan is for the new commissioner to be in place before Scott departs.

“This moment, when college athletics are moving in a new direction and with the conference soon commencing the next round of media negotiations, it seems the right time to make a change,” Scott said in a statement. “It is important that the conference be able to put in place the person who will negotiate and carry out that next agreement.”

Any analysis of what qualities the Pac-12 should be looking for in its next commissioner should begin with a review of Scott’s shortcomings.

Scott, previously the chairman and chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Assn., got off to a fast start in his foray into college athletics. Under his leadership, the Pac-12 pushed to add football powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma to the league footprint before ultimately expanding to 12 teams with Utah and Colorado. Next, he signed what was then the most lucrative college sports TV contract in history for 12 years and $300 million and made the bold move to start the Pac-12 Networks instead of agreeing to let Fox or ESPN run the league’s network.

But, despite Scott’s efforts, the Pac-12 Networks did not reach a distribution deal with DirecTV, making sure that the league could not financially benefit in the way the Big Ten Conference and Southeastern Conference have from their networks, operated by Fox and ESPN, respectively.

It did not help Scott that the NCAA handed out severe sanctions to USC football, or that Oregon fell off after Chip Kelly left for the NFL. Four seasons have passed since a Pac-12 team was invited to the College Football Playoff, a streak that does not look to be in danger of ending soon.

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These failures led to increased focus on the activities of the conference office, and, simply put, Scott did not have the answers to explain the lack of results given his $5-million salary, which is larger than his Power Five peers.

In a Times story in November evaluating Scott’s leadership, multiple high-level university sources said Scott had struggled to maintain healthy relationships with his athletic directors, who complained of a lack of communication from the San Francisco headquarters. Sources said Scott was too often dismissive of campus issues.

Pac-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott is optimistic USC could move into a potential College Football Playoff berth with a win over Oregon.

Scott acknowledged the disconnect to The Times and said he had worked the last few years to correct it.

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“I realized that we needed to change our approach,” Scott said. “I very intentionally made it a priority to
engage with our athletic directors more. … Our collaboration has been really strong through [the pandemic].”

The Pac-12 presidents, chancellors and athletic directors are likely to deviate from Scott and seek a candidate with extensive success as an athletic director or college sports administrator. The conference needs a commissioner who will prioritize elevating the league’s football brand back to where it was when he took over — squarely on a level playing field with the rest of the Power Five. If that person also happens to have meaningful experience navigating a changing media landscape, that would be a a major bonus.

“Based on the recent robust valuation and marketplace interest we’ve received from traditional and nontraditional media organizations, I am confident the conference is well-positioned for continued success,” Scott said. “I appreciate the support of the Pac-12 member institutions and a very talented staff, with whom it has been my privilege to work.”


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