The Pac-12 waited 10 hours, then made news of its own on Wednesday. News that was both unexpected and easily foreseen.
Larry Scott’s tenure as commissioner will conclude this summer, one very costly year (for the conference) before the end of his contract.
Scott and the Pac-12 presidents explained that they “mutually agreed” to part ways, but there was nothing mutual about this.
Scott didn’t have the leverage. He didn’t have the support. He didn’t have the votes.
It was time for a change, and everyone knew it.
That the presidents and chancellors acted now, with the pandemic raging and their budgets eroding, indicates a sense of urgency.
“It was inevitable,’’ a conference source told the Hotline. “We need something different, and we need to get moving as a league.
“Nobody is happy with where we are.”
The easy conclusion is that Scott was all wrong for the job, but it’s more complicated: He was the right commissioner for the conference when he was hired in 2009, and he’s the wrong commissioner for the conference in 2021 and beyond.
The case for granting Scott an extension was flimsy.
There have been too many embarrassing administrative missteps. The football product is struggling. The Pac-12 Networks are flailing, and the conference brand is in tatters.
But why now? Why not delay until the spring or early summer?
Because every month matters, and the presidents recognized that.
They need time for the search, which could take six or nine months, and the new commissioner will need time to settle in and craft a strategy before the momentous media rights negotiations begin in two years.
Now that it’s official — Scott will stay on through June and get paid through the summer of 2022 — our focus turns to the next step.
But before we get to the complexities of the hiring process, a few words on those doing the hiring.
Although the CEO Group will make the decision collectively, the three-person executive committee will drive the process.
That committee is composed of Oregon president Michael Schill (chair), Washington president Ana Mari Cauce and Washington State president Kirk Schulz.
(Appointments to the executive committee are based on seniority.)
For Pac-12 fans worried about the state of the conference and anxious about the search, that trio should put your concerns at ease.
It features the presidents of two of the Pac-12’s premier football programs, Oregon and Washington. And the third member of the group, WSU’s Schulz, might know more about the sport than any president in the conference.
Schulz is the Pac-12’s representative on the College Football Playoff board of managers; he was Kansas State’s president when the Big 12 hired Bob Bowlsby as commissioner; and he knows athletic directors in multiple conferences across the country.
The executive committee will work with a search firm — we haven’t confirmed which one — and eventually present finalists to the full CEO Group.
But long before they reach that step, the presidents must make the most significant decision of all, the decision that will shape the candidate pool:
Do they want an expert from the sports media space, or would they prefer an administrator with decades of experience in college athletics?
Scott was neither: He had no experience in college sports and wasn’t a media industry expert — he had run the Women’s Tennis Association.
The presidents might be tempted to hire straight from the sports media world. After all, the conference must chart a future for the Pac-12 Networks and maximize its value in the upcoming media rights negotiations.
Who better to suck every possible dollar out of the TV networks than one of their own?
We see two issues with that approach:
- Even if the conference hired a sports media veteran as commissioner, he/she would then hire a media consultant to craft strategy and run point on the negotiations. So you’re paying double.
- There is more to the role of commissioner than the media component, and every other aspect requires someone with deep experience in college sports, and football in particular.
The Pac-12’s shortcomings — revenue and relevance, exposure and officiating, scheduling and recruiting — are well documented.
But the challenges are poised to grow by an order-of-magnitude in coming years, for college football is entered a stretch like no other in its history.
Front and center are the changes that will accompany the implementation of name, image and likeness legislation, whereby athletes can get paid for endorsements.
The Pac-12 needs a commissioner who can help set a strategy for NIL.
It needs a commissioner who can work to expand the playoff and secure a system that serves the Pac-12’s interests.
It needs a commissioner who recognizes the potential for the Power Five to become an independent entity within the NCAA, or to split into two divisions of 30-35 teams each.
A commissioner who can participate in those conversations, who has instant credibility walking into a room with industry power brokers, who has the back-channel connections and the institutional knowledge to work the levers and make sure the Pac-12 doesn’t get left behind.
A commissioner the campuses can trust to do their bidding, cut the best deals and keep them relevant.
It needs what it doesn’t currently have.
“If you look historically (at hirings by presidents),” the source said, “there’s usually a significant pendulum swing toward the things you were lacking.”
If the presidents opt to hire straight from the sports media space, there is a clear choice, in our estimation:
Randy Freer, the former head of Fox Sports, who lives on the West Coast, understands the Pac-12’s challenges and worked with Scott on the $3 billion TV deal signed a decade ago.
And if the conference goes with the traditional model?
We don’t see an internal candidate being appointed. Several are qualified, but our hunch is the presidents want to hire from outside the current conference family.
An obvious option is Oliver Luck, the father of Andrew, who was the athletic director at West Virginia and a vice president at the NCAA.
Several sitting athletic directors have been mentioned in media reports as possible candidates, all of them heavy hitters: Clemson’s Dan Radakovich, Ohio State’s Gene Smith and Alabama’s Greg Byrne.
In our view, the Pac-12 needs a commissioner who has worked on one of the campuses.
Smith qualifies, having run Arizona State’s department before moving to Columbus.
So does Byrne, who attended ASU, was the athletic director at Arizona and worked at both Oregon schools.
(Had the Pac-12 acted sooner, it could have pursued Northwestern’s Jim Phillips, regarded by some as the top athletic director in the country and a former ASU administrator. Alas, the ACC hired Phillips as commissioner a month ago.)
Another name to monitor — and one that has surfaced in the 12 hours since the news broke — is Gloria Nevarez, the current commissioner of the West Coast Conference who worked for the Pac-12 for eight years.
And there’s one possible candidate whose name hasn’t been mentioned elsewhere.
That makes sense, because he has a job.
In fact, he has the same job the Pac-12 is looking to fill.
Why not give Bob Bowlsby a call. Maybe he’ll pick up.