In the aftermath of bombshell report that a "third-party" had intervened in the Pac-12's replay review process, emails obtained by the Pac-12 Hotline show a conference in crisis mode.
The night he learned of a bombshell Yahoo report that would jeopardize the integrity of Pac-12 football officiating, Larry Scott began a series of email exchanges with campus officials that reveal a conference in crisis mode and a commissioner attempting to defuse the greatest controversy of his tenure.
The correspondences, obtained by the Hotline via public records request to a cross-section of universities, provide details on the flawed process that led to an untrained official influencing a replay decision.
Additionally, the emails illuminate the internal reaction to the controversy, show a deep concern about the media narrative and shed light on Scott’s plans to gain control of the situation.
“While this is the first time we have encountered this concern and criticism,” Scott wrote to the athletic directors the night the story broke, “and other conferences also involve conference staff in their replay review processes to varying degrees, this misperception and the resulting article is regrettable.”
The heart of the material obtained from five schools — several have yet to respond to the public records request, which was made in October — is a series of three emails from Scott that were sent over a 40-hour span and trace the evolution of the crisis.
Additional emails lend context on a variety of fronts.
• • •
The extra hand
General counsel Woodie Dixon wasn’t the only untrained official involved in the replay review process at the command center in San Francisco.
A video administrator, Mike Ortiz, also participated, according to an email from Scott.
“Our Command Center review and collaboration process … includes on-site instant replay officials, as well as the instant replay supervisor and staff in the command center, including when present Woodie Dixon, (coordinator of officials) David Coleman and Mike Ortiz,’’ Scott wrote.
“ … So while it is true that Woodie, David and Mike weigh in from time to time to provide assistance and perspective on reviews, the Instant Replay Supervisor is the ultimate decision maker in the command center.”
The next day, during public remarks at a basketball media event, Scott announced that “conference leadership responsible for football (Dixon) and responsible for officiating (Coleman) … will have no involvement in the realtime decision making behind replay review.”
Scott made no mention of Ortiz.
Asked for clarification of Ortiz’s role, spokesperson Andrew Walker explained via email that Ortiz didn’t “weigh in” with “perspective” on whether calls should be upheld or overturned.
“Ortiz handles all operational and technical aspects of the Centralized Replay Room on gameday,” Walker wrote, “including all video and audio elements, to make sure that the replay officials are maximizing use of all available technology, have access to and are seeing all available shots and angles, and effectively communicating among themselves (both in what they are seeing on screen but also in what they are communicating about).”
Walker said the conference determined that Ortiz never influenced a replay decision and that his role was included in an internal review later approved by the athletic directors.
Ortiz continues to lend assistance to replay supervisor Bill Richardson.
“It is important to note that all in-stadium replay operations have technicians as part of the operation, and so do centralized replay rooms,” Walker added.
• • •
Upon learning of Dixon’s involvement, Colorado athletic director Rick George wrote to the school’s chancellor, Phil DiStefano:
“Phil: This is not good. I would love to talk to you about this at your convenience. I have heard from Multiple ADs already this am. Rick.”
When reached for comment, George declined to elaborate. His email is the best indication of the reaction from athletic directors, who have avoided comment on an individual basis.
(Collectively, the athletic directors issued a statement of support for changes to the process.)
DiStefano is the new head of the Pac-12 board of directors, having replaced former USC president Max Nikias this fall.
• • •
The internal support
In an exchange with Scott, Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson wrote:
“Tough but appropriate action on your part. Here to support you. Let me know if you need my direct assistance.”
(Anderson spent seven years as the NFL’s executive VP for football operations.)
Scott thanked Anderson and said:
“A good, tough learning experience and we move on,” adding: “It’s been especially tough on Woodie who is distraught over this and if you haven’t reached out already I know how much he respects you and would appreciate hearing from you.”
Dixon has not commented publicly on the situation.
• • •
The media narrative
After the initial uproar subsided, Scott sent an update to the presidents/chancellors in which he expressed concern about the media coverage:
“While the officiating matter appears to be under control, many stories … emerging from basketball media day suggest a more complex, negative narrative that requires all of our attention. This narrative includes the fact that six of our schools have been mentioned in the ongoing federal trial on corruption in college basketball …”
Oregon State president Ed Ray responded to the group:
“We have no interest in letting others define us. We do have so much to be proud of … I have seen no adverse impact of sports writer nastiness among supporters of the university. We should talk about seizing the communications initiative in the sports world. I think some of your concern is probably due to having to deal continually with the characters who populate sports media.”
Scott responded to Ray:
“Thanks for your note and sharing with the group. We’ve got some CEOs new to this environment with angry sports blogger mob, and I’m sure some are more sensitive and reactionary to it. So your not (sic) was very helpful indeed.”
• • •
The talking points
Emails obtained from Washington State earlier this week do not include correspondences from coach Mike Leach, who blistered Dixon and Scott over the officiating in the WSU-USC game in a series of text messages published by Yahoo.
However, the documents include president Kirk Schulz’s response to Scott’s comments about the negative media narrative:
“I do think that as Presidents we could do more to assist with the sports media around these types of situations. I would like us to discuss ways all of us can support the conference with our local media sports reporters at our November meeting. In particular, I thought that (Arizona president Robert Robbins’) interview recently about Arizona athletics and the Pac 12 was particularly effective — some additional voices of support in times of media scrutiny can at show conference unity.”
Schulz also received a list of talking points from the conference, in case he was asked about the officiating scandal during an upcoming interview with ESPN about his appointment to the College Football Playoff’s board of managers.
The conference responded with two talking points:
1) While this incident is of course both serious and unfortunate, I’m pleased that the Conference has both recognized the mistake in our replay command center procedures and taken an immediate action step to address the issue and to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Eliminating the involvement of conference officials in the decision making behind replay reviews in real-time is the right action, as is the broader review that the Conference plans to undertake.
2) I know that the #1 priority for the Conference and all of us is student athlete health and safety, along with the integrity of our officiating. Today’s announcement by the Commissioner will ensure that that continues to be the case.
The first of the three emails from Scott to conference stakeholders was sent at 9:08 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10 — the night the Yahoo story broke.
“Dear Pac-12 Athletic Directors,
“I wanted to give you a heads up about an article being written by Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports that could be published as soon as tomorrow.
“The subject … is our replay review process that took place following a hit to USC quarterback J.T. Daniels, which resulted in a late hit penalty in the third quarter of the September 21 Washington State at USC football game. Based on our conversations with Pete Thamel and a standard replay review report filed by the in-stadium replay review official that was leaked to Pete Thamel, it is our understanding that the article will criticize our Command Center review and collaboration process, and in particular take issue with the involvement of “third party” Conference staff. This criticism will likely include an allegation that Woodie Dixon directed the command center Instant Replay Supervisor to not add a targeting call in this instance.
“Our Command Center review and collaboration process does not include any ‘third parties’, but includes on-site instant replay officials, as well as the instant replay supervisor and staff in the command center, including when present Woodie Dixon, David Coleman and Mike Ortiz. Discussion with those individuals as part of the review and collaboration process in sometimes unique and critical situations provides depth, perspective and further discussion that we believe gives us the best possibility to make consistent and correct decisions.
“So while it is true that Woodie, David and Mike weigh in from time to time to provide assistance and perspective on reviews, the Instant Replay Supervisor is the ultimate decision maker in the command center. We regret that in this instance it was interpreted by officials as Woodie directing their decision, which was not his intent.
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“While this is the first time we have encountered this concern and criticism, and other conferences also involve conference staff in their replay review processes to varying degrees, this misperception and the resulting article is regrettable. We are committed to reviewing and clarifying our processes, benchmarking against other conferences, and reaffirming that the Instant Replay Supervisor makes final determinations in all cases after appropriate collaborative discussion with officials on the field, in the replay booth and in the Command Center.”
The Hotline reached out to executives at the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC and asked specifically about the identity and background of those involved in the replay review process.
None of the conferences permit untrained officials to participate in discussions about the interpretation of rules or the accuracy of calls on the field.
The following morning, at 9:32 a.m., Scott sent another email to the athletic directors and coaches:
“ … The in-depth reporting makes it clear that we made a mistake in our procedures that we need to acknowledge and address immediately. In this regard, following my opening remarks at our Pac-12 men’s basketball media day later this morning, I will clearly share with the media in attendance the mistake we made in our Command Center procedures in mixing administrative oversight with real-time replay review calls made by our expert officials on the field, in-stadium and in the Command Center.
“More specifically, if we allowed any ambiguity about the relative responsibilities for decision-making, that was clearly a mistake. I will announce that effective immediately our conference leadership responsible for football and officiating, Woodie Dixon and David Coleman, while continuing their important oversight responsibilities, will not have any involvement in the decision-making behind replay reviews and collaboration in real-time. This will be in addition to the broader benchmarking and review referenced in my note of last night that we will discuss at our upcoming AD meetings in Santa Clara.”
Approximately an hour later, at the annual basketball media event at Pac-12 headquarters, Scott acknowledged the mistake and announced the removal of Dixon and Coleman from the replay review process.
During a question-and-answer session, Scott was asked if he was concerned that replay decisions in other games had been influenced by untrained officials.
“I am not,” he said. “As I mentioned to an earlier question, I’ve had a chance since the report came out to have direct conversations with our replay officials and leadership, and I’ve asked those questions point blank, and I’m not aware of any other incident where our replay officials have had a concern.”
The following day — approximately 36 hours after the Yahoo story broke and 24 hours after his public remarks — Scott wrote to the presidents/chancellors.
The lengthy note begins with an update on the officiating crisis, then casts an eye to the larger narrative of a conference in crisis.
“While I don’t expect criticism of officiating decisions to go away in the short term, the second story on this matter written by Yahoo and many others journalists suggests that our immediate action and admission of the mistake worked effectively to address this matter. While the officiating matter appears to be under control, many stories … emerging from basketball media day suggest a more complex, negative narrative that requires all of our attention.
“This narrative includes the fact that six of our schools have been mentioned in the ongoing federal trial on corruption in college basketball. Writers also are using the opportunity to connect the football officiating issue and the college basketball trial to other macro topics like the DirectTV situation and our institutions’ poor performances in football and men’s basketball postseason in order to conclude that our Conference is in turmoil. While individual schools are addressing issues in the trial and DirectTV remains unresolved, I do not believe any of us would agree these matters are somehow connected, nor that we are in turmoil.
“As we all know, we have many proud accomplishments of all-around athletic excellence, including leading the nation in NCAA titles for the last 13 years, and continue to lead the national conversation on important issues in college athletics like student-athlete reform, health and well-being. However, we share a collective interest and responsibility to recognize the way these dots are being connected, and more importantly, to address these perceptions head on for the benefit of all members institutions.
“With this in mind, I would like to devote a significant amount of time during our November meeting to examine what is driving these collective perceptions and what we can do proactively to mitigate them. Our performance as a Conference, school by school, belies the sensational conclusions being drawn by journalists and influencers.
“We have started work on and need a deliberate and collective strategy to regain the positive momentum that we know exists on all of our campuses.”