The Pac-12 just had the worst performance by a major conference at the NCAA Tournament in more than 20 years. Given the conference’s litany of ongoing problems, that kind of showing at the biggest event in college athletics was even more disastrous. There’s only one man to blame for the Pac-12’s shortcomings, conference commissioner Larry Scott.
All three of the Pac-12’s entrants into the 2018 NCAA Tournament have been sent home before the round of 32. That hasn’t happened to any major conference since the formation of the Big 12 in 1996.
Despite big preseason hype for USC and Washington, the Pac-12 didn’t have a team in the College Football Playoff. Factor in the disaster that is the Pac-12 Network and you’ve got a recipe for failure.
During the football season, Scott has pushed Friday night games as a way to increase revenue. There’s just one problem: no one is going to watch football on Friday nights, especially when games kick off at 10:30 p.m. ET. The atmosphere for some of those games has been terrible as well because of the late starts. Getting students to games is one thing, but what family is taking kids to a 7:30 p.m. kickoff for a game that’s going to last four hours?
Thanks to Scott’s ridiculous scheduling ideas, Washington State, USC, UCLA, Washington and Cal all had to travel on short weeks to play Friday night games. All of them lost those games. Oh, and Stanford had to travel to Oregon State on a short week to play on a Thursday night and barely survived 15-14 because the Beavers handed the game to the Cardinal.
Among those Friday night games, both Washington State and USC had to play on the road, then travel to play a Friday night game the next week. It was an absolutely moronic — and patently unfair — situation for the kids. If that wasn’t enough, USC was forced to play the entire regular season without a bye. Yep, 12 straight weeks of football for college kids. Pretty clear the conference cares a whole lot about player safety, huh?
In the end, the Pac-12 didn’t have a team finish the football season ranked in the top 10 and went 1-8 in bowl games, the worst performance ever for a Power-5 conference.
Scott has since said they will work on fixing the scheduling issues, but he’s opposed to ending the Pac-12’s nine-game conference schedule. Again, that’s ridiculous. A nine-game conference schedule made sense when the league only had 10 teams and everyone played each other. Now there are 12 teams and there’s a conference championship game, so there’s absolutely no reason to play nine league games. I swear, if the Pac-12 wasn’t shooting itself in the foot it would be firing blanks.
Then there’s the absurdity that is the Pac-12 Network. The broadcasts are largely terrible and aren’t even available on DirecTV. That’s right, a supposedly “major” conference network that has been on the air for nearly six years still isn’t available on DirecTV. And Scott says there is no movement to rectify that situation.
The result of the major missteps with the Pac-12 Network is awful payouts to the conference members. While Big Ten and SEC teams are hauling in around $8 million a year from their TV deal, the Pac-12 dished out a paltry $2.5 million to its members in 2017. When the network launched, the schools were expecting between $5 million and $6 million per year. Now that looks like a pipe dream.
Meanwhile, in overall revenue distribution, the conference Scott oversees lags far behind. The Big Ten paid out nearly $35 million per school in 2016 and the SEC dished out $40.5 million per member. The Pac-12 sent out $28.7 million, a number far below expectations. In 2017, the SEC paid out $40.9 million per school, while the Pac-12 is expected to sit right near $29 million.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, Scott is the highest-paid conference commissioner, taking home more than $4 million a year. He’s making more yearly than the universities he oversees make off the conference’s television deal. If that doesn’t adequately point out the flaws in his leadership I don’t know what will.
So what does all of this have to do with the conference’s failures in the 2018 NCAA Tournament? It’s really quite simple. More money means more resources, whether it’s used on facilities, recruiting budgets or better on-campus resources for players. Oh, and it means bigger, more competitive salaries to entice top-level coaches.
Better TV scheduling means more exposure. Playing football games earlier on Saturdays means maybe voters on the East Coast would actually be awake to watch. Setting up your conference basketball tournament so games end at a decent hour could mean an extra team gets a boost come Selection Sunday. Oh, and maybe put those games on a TV network people can actually see, instead of on a channel people with DirecTV are blocked from accessing.
Scott is simply clueless when it comes to working the system and putting his member schools in the best position to succeed. The Pac-12 has won by far the most national championships of any conference. But when it comes to the big money sports, the league has fallen behind.
Since Scott took over as commissioner in 2009, the conference has not won a national title in football or basketball. And only two teams have even reached a national title game in either sport (Oregon football in 2010 and 2015). Scott has to own that failure. The former Harvard tennis player simply doesn’t understand how to elevate football and basketball in the conference he oversees.
It’s time for the Pac-12 to move on and find better leadership. The conference has regressed with Scott at the helm.