Campus official across the Pac-12 have begun discussing the future of commissioner Larry Scott and believe a decision on his contract could come by the end of this year, if not sooner, according to conference sources.
Scott’s deal expires in two years, but the window is somewhat condensed, sources said, by the timing of the Pac-12’s media rights agreements.
Although the deals with ESPN and Fox run into the spring of 2024, formal negotiations likely would commence 18-21 months earlier, in the fall of 2022 — or just after Scott’s current contract expires.
And the Pac-12’s strategy, according to sources with experience in media deals, would have to be mapped out well in advance of the fall of 2022.
With that convergence of events, a contract extension would position Scott to lead the media rights negotiations that one source called “the most critical thing in the history of the conference.”
If Scott doesn’t want or doesn’t receive a contract extension, a long lead time would be required to find a commissioner, who would then need months to establish his/her strategy for the negotiations.
“They can’t wait until 2022 to make a decision on Larry,’’ a source said. “The future of the conference is at stake. By this summer, they have to know if he’s staying or going.”
Scott believes the timeframe for his contract discussions is longer and pointed to his past extensions — the most recent was in March ’17 — which have come about one year before the expiration date.
“There are still over two years left, and I haven’t had the first conversation about it,” he told the Hotline on Friday.
“There’s a lot going on that I’m excited about, and the alignment we’ve had (with the campuses) is as good as it’s been recently, if not ever.”
Scott said he was “laser-focused” on a series of issues and initiatives, including the conference’s ongoing search for a strategic partner that would provide immediate cash for the schools and help the Pac-12 maximize the value of its media content for the next contract cycle.
The Pac-12 is “actively in discussions with potential partners,” Scott said.
Asked if he wanted a new contract, Scott said:
“I haven’t had the first conversation with the board. I’m singularly focused on several major opportunities” for the conference. “When the time is right, I’ll have evaluations with my family.”
Unless Scott leaves on his own volition, his future would be determined by a vote of the presidents and chancellors, who meet as a group next month in Las Vegas at the Pac-12 tournament and then again in May in San Francisco.
Any discussion of, or formal vote on Scott’s contract likely would unfold during an executive session in which the CEO Group meets privately.
Executive sessions are standard components to Pac-12 meetings, both for the CEOs and the athletic directors. Some last a short period of time; some can take an hour or more.
The Hotline was unable to determine whether Scott’s contract will be discussed during the CEO Group’s executive session in Las Vegas.
Informal discussions about Scott’s future have taken place not only on the campuses but between the campuses, with officials at multiple levels involved.
One source mentioned positive developments in the past 12-15 months, including greater collaboration with the schools on policy matters and the avoidance of controversies through the 2019 football season.
But another source noted ongoing frustration on campuses with football officiating, and a third source expressed exasperation with the conference’s slow-to-evolve policy on transfer rules.
The Big Ten proposed last fall that athletes in all sports be allowed to transfer once without having to sit out a year; the ACC voiced unanimous support recently; and the NCAA Division I Council is expected to take up the matter this spring.
The Pac-12 is only now beginning to formulate a position on the groundbreaking issue.
“It’s not just the media deal” that has caused campus frustration, a source said, referring to the disappointment with the Pac-12 Networks.
For this article, the Hotline spoke to sources serving in various campus capacities and additional sources who have experience in media rights deals.
Each requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.
None claimed to know how the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors would ultimately vote on Scott’s contract.
But on one topic, there was unanimity:
Whatever the CEOs and Scott decide, they must decide soon — while there is a choice.
“If it gets pushed off to the tail end, right before the (media) negotiations,’’ a source said, “that would force the league to extend him.”
The timing of the last commissioner change lends context to the current situation.
Scott’s predecessor, Tom Hansen, announced his retirement in the summer of 2008 — effective a year later. It took the conference approximately six months to select Scott, then another four until Scott assumed the post.
More recently, the Big Ten’s transition window, from longtime commissioner Jim Delany’s retirement announcement to successor Kevin Warren’s first day on the job, took 10 months.
So if there is, in fact, change atop the Pac-12 org chart, expect the transition to require nine-to-12 months.
Add the time required for a new commissioner to set the media strategy, and the fall of 2022 — when the conference is expected to begin the exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and Fox — isn’t that far off.
“If the presidents come out in favor of the status quo, then Larry will see us through the negotiations,’’ a source said.
“But they can’t have one commissioner start a strategy and then make a change and then bring in someone else and start on another strategy.
“The question is, do the presidents understand that?”
Scott said he is monitoring the media landscape closely on two fronts: An approach for the conference at the negotiating table for the rights that expire in 2024, and strategic options that could arise prior to that point.
“It’s a high priority,” he said, adding that “you want to have a game plan in place far enough in advance, but not so far in advance” — because of the rapid pace of change in technology and consumer behavior.
The Pac-12’s unique structure, with a wholly-owned media company, adds another layer to the timing for the presidents and chancellors to consider.
The negotiations likely to begin in the fall of 2022 won’t be restricted to the future of the Tier One content currently owned by ESPN and Fox. They would include the Pac-12 Networks’ inventory of football, basketball and Olympic sports.
Scott believes that by placing everything on the table at once, the conference would be better positioned for a jackpot.
But because the content on the Pac-12 Networks isn’t licensed to a media partner, there are no restrictions on the conference’s ability to begin exploratory discussions specific to that inventory.
As a result, Scott (or his successor) could conceivably begin to formulate a broader media strategy well in advance of the formal Tier One negotiations.
“(With) the potential equity investment and selection of a consultant and things along those lines,” a source said of Scott’s future, “they should start pretty soon.”