When what was then the Pac-10 Conference announced that Larry Scott was selected as their new commissioner three years ago, more than a few old school leaders of intercollegiate athletics rolled their eyes. Here was the league, still struggling to find its identity, making some kind of desperate play for attention before they slipped even further behind powers like the SEC and the Big 10 and the Big 12 and the Big East.
Those leaders could not have been more wrong.
Scott…Harvard educated with a track record of business success in both men’s and women’s tennis on a global scale…was exactly what college athletics and the Pac 10 needed. In just three short years, Scott has turned the tables on college athletics with a forward-thinking approach that was both refreshing and much needed. He expanded the reach of the league, and helped set off a national shift of allegiances by adding the Universities of Colorado and Utah to the roster of schools in the conference. That helped make the Pac 12 much more marketable away from the west coast, which assisted in creating new broadcast deals with FOX and ESPN and led to the establishment of Pac-12 Enterprises, which will package and sell a wide roster of opportunities for the schools and the brand itself. However perhaps the boldest move will launch on August 15 when the Pac 12 Networks will go live with one national and six regional networks that will offer 850 live events a year.
Thursday Scott was honored in New York with the inaugural Cynopsis Sports Vision Award, which recognizes the League Executive of the Year. During his acceptance speech he spoke not just about his work thus far, but also about where college athletics is going as a property. “If you look at the global landscape of sports, there is perhaps no entity that is growing faster than college athletics,” he said during the event. “The television deals that have been created are among the biggest anywhere, and the loyalty of the fans and their ability to adapt to brands is almost unparalleled,”
“In the Pac-12, we are harnessing this dynamic time in collegiate athletics to take advantage of extraordinary new opportunities for our Conference and deliver on our fans’ desire for even more content,” he added. “And consistent with Pac-12’s pioneering vision, innovation is at the heart of our operations. We are committed to building out digital and TV Everywhere capabilities that ensure fans can access Pac-12 sports when and where they choose and engage with our content in social media.”
Scott also reflected on where he has drawn his vision from, given the league’s physical location in Silicon Valley. “When we looked at where our schools are located, we realized that we wanted to be innovative, and to do that we wanted to mirror some of the companies that reside within our area,” he added. “So we looked at the iconic brands of Nike and Apple, and realized that where we wanted to be from a leadership and creative perspective. We want to help bring college athletics to a new level of business success and innovation, and hopefully that’s where we are heading.”
Scott also pledged to give the league a more national presence by bringing the news and the business of the conference not just to middle America but to Wall Street and Broadway, and he feels that through the new media deals, an innovative digital media platform and by harnessing the power of thousands of Pac 12 alumni on the East Coast that league awareness can and will grow, even if it is thousands of miles away from where games are played, especially on fall Saturdays.
It was a bold step taken by the leadership of the conference three years ago, to step away from the normal hiring process and pull in a leader who did not fit what was then the norm. However the new norm for intercollegiate athletics is probably in the mold of Larry Scott, someone who has assembled a team and helped turn the business of college athletics into a new direction going forward.