If you were expecting Larry Scott to go gentle into that good night, you weren’t paying attention over the past 12 years.
The outgoing Pac-12 commissioner, who never met a room he couldn’t misread or a tone he won’t be deaf to, leaves office June 30, one year before his contract expires. That’s when his replacement, George Kliavkoff, officially takes over.
Instead of leaving gracefully and graciously, Scott has raised one final set of hackles with his exit interview given to The Associated Press. It’s an honors thesis of buck-passing, back-patting, blame-avoiding and reality-shifting.
With some petty digs thrown in. For example, when asked if he should have publicly advocated for the expansion of the College Football Playoff sooner and more aggressively, Scott replied: “It’s always tempting to grandstand and say things just for the benefit of fans.”
It’s hard not to interpret that as a swipe at Kliavkoff, who in his introductory news conference made such advocacy a central part of his initial agenda. As he should have — it’s going to be a huge plus for the Pac-12 if and when it happens. It’s not “grandstanding” to let it be known you’re pushing for something that’s going to propel the Pac-12 back toward national relevancy.
But that’s just a throwaway line. The real head-shaker is how Scott blamed the Pac-12’s lack of football success — the singular failure of his regime — on underperformance by its marquee schools, specifically USC, Oregon, Stanford and Washington. The fact that they didn’t get to the playoff more often or win as much as they should have, he said, “has very little to do with the conference office.”
It’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, what little national success the Pac-12 had in football during Scott’s tenure was achieved by Oregon (title game in 2015) and Washington (semifinals in 2016).
But the key point is that the conference’s inability to sustain or extend that success actually has a lot to do with the conference office. No, Scott and his staff were not out there recruiting players, drawing up game plans or calling plays. But the crux of Scott’s failure as Pac-12 commissioner, and the reason he was eased out the door, is that he presided over the variety of catastrophes that cumulatively put the conference at a tremendous competitive disadvantage.
The biggest, of course, was the media-rights deal that was once hailed as a triumph but over time proved to be woefully inadequate. It was systematically surpassed by every power conference, the ever-growing disparity in revenue putting the Pac-12 at an ever-increasing disadvantage.
The Pac-12 Networks proved to be an utter embarrassment, undermined from the beginning by Scott’s inability to forge a deal with DirecTV. Bottom line is that not enough people, including potential recruits, were able to see the Pac-12 in action.
When revenue lags, that impacts everything — recruiting budgets, facilities, coaching pools, staff sizes. In other words, all the things that separate the SEC and ACC powerhouses from the Pac-12 schools trying to get there.
Beyond that, there were the myriad other things on Scott’s watch that chipped away at the Pac-12’s credibility and its ability to turn potential playoff teams into national powerhouses. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News laid those out nicely this week: the Friday night road games in 2017 that derailed USC, Washington State and Washington when all three were potential national contenders; the instant-replay officiating scandal that inspired ridicule; the kickoff times that were announced just six days in advance, complicating the ability of fans to attend.
Beyond that, there were the various revelations of profligate spending by Scott, both at the Pac-12’s posh San Francisco offices and in Las Vegas during conference tournaments, and the executive bonuses paid out during the pandemic.
In the AP story, Scott allowed that “there were some optics issues, around expenditures that we made that people were sensitive to.” But no acknowledgment that he had misstepped in any way. Those weren’t just “optic issues.” They were gross examples of overreach and tone-deafness.
Scott’s relationship with member schools got increasingly fractious, but instead of self-reflection on how he might have contributed to that, Scott instead appeared to blame the turnover of athletic directors and other administrators for his problems. Never mind that the essence of his job was to find a way to forge a working relationship with whoever was in power at the Pac-12 member schools. It’s unrealistic to think that the same people who hired him were going to stay in the job for perpetuity.
Finally, Scott made clear his belief that whatever success Kliavkoff has in negotiating a new media-rights package should be viewed as the result of his ingenuity in positioning the conference for a huge payoff. It’s almost as if he sees the years of falling behind the other conferences as nothing more than a delayed stroke of genius.
“In hindsight, if we had done shorter TV deals, even if it meant leaving some money on the table, I think our members would have appreciated being able to redo our TV contracts a little bit sooner. But I think the long-term, bold nature of our strategy will pay off handsomely for the league when it redoes the deals in 2024,” Scott told the AP.
The fact is that Kliavkoff’s degree of difficulty in negotiating those deals has been raised exponentially by the utter deterioration of the Pac-12 brand that occurred under Scott’s watch.
But to listen to Scott as he heads out the door is to harken back to the classic scene in “Naked Gun” in which there are a series of huge explosions that leave cars aflame, bodies flying through the air and fireworks lighting up the sky. Meanwhile, Detective Frank Drebin calls out to horrified onlookers, “Move on, nothing to see here.”
The truth, of course, is that the flaming mess of Pac-12 football under Scott is there for the world to see, no matter how he tries to spin it.