O’Neil: Pac-12 commish Larry Scott is running a conference and a TV network, and he isn’t good at either

Dec 4, 2018, 10:21 AM
larry scott, pac 12 networks...
The Pac-12 launched its own media network under commissioner Larry Scott in 2012. (AP)

He doesn’t think we’re smart enough to understand.

Larry Scott didn’t say it that bluntly, but that’s the unvarnished implication of how the Pac-12 commissioner responded to The Oregonian’s four-part series last week.

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“We’re challenging to follow because we’re unique as a conference,” Scott said.

That’s how he responded to John Canzano’s four stories, which detailed among other things that Scott makes more than any of his contemporary commissioners while overseeing a conference that is paying its member institutions less than the other top conferences.

He thinks we don’t get it. He thinks we’re incapable of grasping what he has built at the Pac-12. That we fail to understand that this isn’t just a conference, but a television network, and so any attempt to compare his conference – and you better believe this guy thinks it’s his conference – to other conferences is bound to be inaccurate.

His salary shouldn’t be compared to the SEC commissioner because Scott, after all, runs a TV network, so he thinks he has as much in common with the head of ESPN as he does the guy who runs the SEC. You can’t compare the rent for the conference’s new digs in San Francisco to other conference headquarters, either. After all, the conference is a TV network so of course it had to move into the city with the second-most expensive rents in the country. After all, ESPN is located in … ummmmm … Bristol, Conn.

The nerve of this guy. Grows up playing a country-club sport, attends an Ivy League school and then thinks he can pretend he’s doing us a favor while he’s making the conference we watch worse.

We get it, Larry. Well, at least we get it if we don’t have DirecTV, which doesn’t carry the network that Scott brags about being in charge of. We understand what is going on in this conference, and I for one do not like it. At all.

In fact, I think you should be fired. I think you should be fired right now, and if it was possible to make you pay retroactively for all the peanuts you’ve eaten on the private jet you have chartered as part of your contract as the Pac-12 commissioner I would support that, too.

I understand what you’ve done. You’ve gone into the TV business. The other conferences, they recognized that they’re administrators with no background in assembling, marketing and distributing TV programming, so they struck deals with people who were – you know – in the TV business. They let them handle the nuts and bolts – or the lights and the cameras – to televise games involving their schools and distribute that programming to an audience composed of fans of those schools. In exchange, they received payment from the television network. You know, broadcasting rights.

Not the Pac-12, though. You decided the Pac-12 should build the network itself. That it should cut out the middle man so to speak, which is actually a misnomer. Because in this case the middle man wasn’t a middle man at all, but the expert who knew not just how to televise those games, but how to distribute those games to the widest possible customer base. You see, Larry, it turns out the ability to televise an event is only as good as your ability to distribute that event, and when you fail to get a deal with the second-largest pay-TV provider in your area like DirecTV, that means that anyone who’s a customer of the second-largest pay-TV provider – including those who don’t have a choice other than DirecTV – can’t get all your super awesome programming even if they want it.

And all Scott’s smugness would be merely annoying and off-putting if he were making the schools in the conference the money that he predicted. If the league’s television network was in fact the game-changer Scott predicted when he sold the schools on the idea of building this network that launched back in 2011, then you could defend the rent and the salary.

Instead, Scott is the commissioner of a conference whose television network isn’t distributed as widely as other conferences like the Big Ten and the SEC. The conference’s annual payouts to its member schools, therefore, are predictably lower than conferences, too.

Canzano pointed all this out in four different stories, and when Scott was asked about it, he said the conference was “challenging to follow.”

And honestly, the network isn’t my biggest problem with long-legged Larry. As a Comcast subscriber, I get the Pac-12 network, which carries 30-some conference football games per year. My biggest problem is how little Larry cares about people like me: a fan of the Pac-12 in general and Washington specifically. A fan who actually goes to the games, which is not unimportant. More than half my school’s athletics budget comes from gate receipts of the home games, but Larry has made it tougher to attend those games because the TV deal that he negotiated with FOX and ESPN leaves game times uncertain up until six days ahead of time in some instances.

When Washington’s football season started, we knew three game times. The opener against Auburn, the home opener against North Dakota State and the Apple Cup against Washington State. That’s it. Everything else was “To Be Determined,” and sometimes it wasn’t determined until less than a week before kickoff.

The reason for this is – again – television. Only this time it’s ESPN and FOX, who take turns choosing which games they want, and the contract Scott negotiated let’s them wait sometimes up until the week of the game to determine kickoff times.

It’s one thing to build in flexibility to allow the conference to showcase its best games. This is something else entirely. You have sold out the ability for any of our schools to plan anything around game times so that TV executives can choose at their leisure, which brings me to the final game of the Pac-12 schedule.

Why was the Pac-12 Championship played on Friday at 5 p.m.? The Big Ten played its title game on Saturday. So did the Big 12. And the SEC. And the ACC. And the AAC.

But the Pac-12 played its title game on Friday, with a kickoff before many work weeks had even ended. Not only that, but it was played in the Bay Area, the region of our conference that has the lowest overall enthusiasm for college football.

There was one benefit for Scott, who was booed as he presented Washington with its trophy for winning the title. If the game had been played on Saturday it might not have been two-thirds empty. More people would have meant more boos for Scott.

But that’s just because we don’t understand, right Larry?

Danny O’Neil co-hosts Danny, Dave and Moore from 3-7 p.m. each day on 710 ESPN Seattle. Read his columns on 710Sports.com and listen to podcasts of the show.

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O’Neil: Pac-12 commish Larry Scott is running a conference and a TV network, and he isn’t good at either