Larry Scott addresses the state of the Pac-12, officiating, realignment and more
SAN FRANCISCO - It's been an exciting year for Pac-12 football as the conference has experienced close to unprecedented success on the football field in 2012. In advance of the Football Championship Game on Friday between Stanford and UCLA, commissioner Larry Scott sat down to answer questions -- including several from fans on Twitter -- and give his take on the state of the conference.
SCOTT: It's been certainly a great season for us. It's been a very intense few years and a great few years for the conference. This season, if in fact Oregon gets selected, this will be three years in a row that we have two BCS bowl teams. I was wondering the other day how many conferences were in that boat. Obviously the SEC is but I think we're in some pretty rarefied territory. For me, when I think of where the conference was in terms of national perception to where we are now with five or six teams ranked most of the season, I definitely think there is a positive change happening. The national perception is better not just at the top, but in terms of depth.
I look at all of the new coaches. Eight new coaches will have come in since when I started [in July 2009]. Now with Colorado open, it's nine out of 12. With the investment in these coaches, facilities and other things, the future is bright and I'm feeling good. Certainly from where the conference was at from a football perspective.
FISCHER: What's been the reaction from all of the bowl partners?
SCOTT: There's been a lot of excitement at the fact that we have eight bowl teams. Everybody's happy because they're going to get a [Pac-12] team and because we've had so many ranked teams this year. We've had some very happy bowl partners this year. Things have fallen into place very naturally given the way the teams are slotted. Whoever loses the championship game and Oregon State will [go to either] the Alamo Bowl and Holiday Bowl. Then we have four teams with very similar records to go down the pecking order. Our bowl partners will wind up with good teams and good matchups.
FISCHER: Has there been any consideration in Arizona not going to the New Mexico Bowl because it conflicts with the Wildcats' big non-conference men's basketball game with Florida on the same date?
SCOTT: At this point we have weekly calls with all of our athletic directors so we're trying to look at all of those issues. That's something [deputy commissioner Kevin Weiberg] does daily with our bowl partners. There's some shared interest in terms of who picks who but at the end of the day, the bowls by contract are entitled to certain selections. It's a consultative process.
FISCHER: Any exciting new initiatives that are occupying your time?
SCOTT: Well, we're knee-deep in the future of the postseason and the transition from the BCS to the four-team playoff. There's a lot of exciting stuff. We have the basic structure in place; we know it's going to be six bowls. We have revenue sharing in place and a blockbuster TV deal that shows the value that has been unlocked of moving to a playoff. We have a happy Rose Bowl partner; they'll get four semifinals in the new system. In eight years they'll have the traditional Pac-12/Big Ten matchup and won't have to take other teams outside the conferences. There's a little more certainty and clarity for how the system is going to work now. We have some happy partners in Pasadena.
There are still some issues to work through in building the organization to support [executive director of the BCS] Bill Hancock, how we actually make this work, deciding what the (request for proposal) process will look like for the national championship game, who will be the three additional access bowls, the naming and branding and how the selection committee will work. There's still a lot to do. Over the next six months, that's occupying a lot of my time. My fellow commissioners and I will be working on that and it will probably go through the April/May meetings. It should all be resolved by then.
After that, we will start to look at our bowl lineup. It's a good time for our conference in terms of our strength so it's nice to take a step back and reevaluate our bowl matchups and what we do. It's going to be a busy next few months figuring out our future.
FISCHER: A lot of people are clamoring for a bowl game between the Pac-12 and SEC. Any chance that happens down the road?
SCOTT: I hope so but I think it's most likely in this new four-team playoff. We're most likely to see the big-time matchups that fans want now that we have a four-team rather than a two-team playoff. In terms of the bowl lineups themselves, they seem to be pretty well entrenched. They're tied to the Orange Bowl and several Florida bowls so it's not obvious to me that we're going to have a contract bowl relationship with the SEC or where that would happen at a respectable level for us. But one of the things I like with the move to a four-team playoff is that we're more likely to get that Pac-12/SEC matchup in a semifinal or national championship game.
FISCHER: What's the status of the conference review of Washington State and Mike Leach involving allegations of a former player?
SCOTT: It's in progress so there's no news to report as it's still ongoing. We're trying to do it as expeditiously but also as thoroughly as possible. That's what we were asked to do by their president, Elson Floyd, and we're in the process of doing that.
FISCHER: If you had to look back, what are some of the high points of the football season so far?
SCOTT: There are a lot of high points. I look at the ultimate being having elite teams at the top and having depth to have a national perception that we're right up there in the pecking order. If I look at those three things, metrics if you could call it that, I think it's been a big year for the conference. Obviously a cherry on top would be to have a team play in the national championship game but if it winds up that we have two BCS bowl teams, have all the ranked teams we had and the eight eligible bowl teams - and assuming we do well in those games - it will all really help the drumbeat and positive momentum we have as a conference.
Several new coaches have done well. Obviously Washington State, by their own admission, would liked to have had a better first year [under Leach] but they ended on a strong note. If I look at the other three brand new coaches, you're never sure if they'll be longer turnarounds or have an immediate impact. I haven't looked at the preseason predictions but I believe that UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State probably overachieved in terms of what people thought. That's encouraging to see new coaches do well and have an immediate impact. That was a real highlight of the season.
SCOTT: I'm looking at this year to be a turnaround in terms of national perception of the strength of the conference. There's no question the past couple of years we were down and underperformed in terms of the number of teams getting into the tournament. I think this season looks very promising, especially when I look at it in terms of the same metrics for football: We want elite teams capable of going deep in the tournament, and we want depth and our fair share of representation in the tournament.
I'm pleased with the start that our teams seem to be off to. We've had some notable wins over ranked teams and, I think, wins over every BCS conference already. We already have many more good results than we did the whole season last year. What became clear last season was that your fortunes were somewhat baked by the time you get into conference play so this is a really important time of the year. We have a lot more depth than we have in the past. It's still early but it's very encouraging that the Pac-12 is back and on the road to its historical success level.
The other thing with basketball is, I'm very excited about the new men's tournament in Vegas and the women's tournament in Seattle. That's going to create a lot of excitement and it's very important to me to have a great atmosphere and excitement about those tournaments. We're thrilled to be partnering with Las Vegas and as I travel around the conference, I see the excitement bubbling around it. I think we'll have much better travel and fan participation.
Fan question from Kevin Luchansky (@kpLUCH on Twitter): With realignment shaking up again, does the Pac-12 stay put or look to expand?
SCOTT: We're not looking to expand. We intend to and hope to stay at 12 teams for the foreseeable future. I feel we've been at the forefront of expansion, at least the recent wave of it. Obviously realignment has been happening for decades but in the recent wave we were a very early mover. In 2011, we added Colorado and Utah and it was very strategic to get to a football championship game and in advance of our TV negotiations and in advance of possibly starting our own network. It turned out well.
We did have the opportunity last fall to evaluate further expansion opportunities. At that time it was clear to me and I told our athletic directors and presidents: We have to envision a world where peer conferences go to 14 or 16 teams. We saw that with the SEC adding Texas A&M and Missouri, the ACC was at 14. I had enough conversations with the Big Ten to know that they would at some stage likely expand. We evaluated not in the context of where the world was today but where the world is going to be five or 10 years ago and that's a world of 14 or 16-team conferences. We decided we wanted to stay at 12.
Especially after what the Big Ten has just done, our conference makes more sense than any other from a geographic standpoint. We have the logic of natural rivals in each of the markets we're in. We like playing each other; our schools don't want to play each other less. The departure from the round-robin and not playing each other has required some adjustments but our priority is keeping the nine-game schedule and playing each other often.
Frankly, you can never be complacent but there's a sense that we're right there with any conference in the country in terms of the caliber of our TV deal both financially and exposure-wise. We've kind of ticked the box in terms of things we wanted to achieve so there's no sense that we need to expand for expansion's sake. We're in great shape as a 12-team conference.
Fan question from @citizen_dog on Twitter: Why do Pac-12 football officials call significantly more penalties than those of any other conferences?
SCOTT: It's come up a lot this year and I've asked our head of football operations and head of officiating to, once the season is over, do a comparative study. I'd like a thoughtful answer to that question. I suspect that it may have something to do with the style of play and number of plays that get run. There's certain things about West Coast football that is very exciting with the pace and number of plays. It's something that we'll look at more thoroughly.
Fan question from OCF (@duckfan78 on Twitter): Any progress with UVerse, DirecTV, Charter and others on carrying the Pac-12 Network?
SCOTT: Our team is working on it constantly and it is a top priority. The network is for the fans and want as many people who can get it to get it. There are definitely some constructive conversations going on with some of the companies. I hope to have some additional news in the coming weeks and months. When I've been asked about DirecTV, there hasn't been much progress to report on. I know that has been disappointing for us and for a lot of our fans. At this point in time, DirecTV has for whatever reasons chosen not to listen to their customers who have demanded it. I know there was a lot of upset fans in Oregon about the Civil War. I'm hearing from a lot of basketball fans too who know we have at least 12 games from each of our school on the networks. The sheer quality and quantity of basketball is particularly upsetting to some fans. I'm hoping that some of these distributors will listen to their customers who want it very badly and agree to take it. If they won't take it, it puts their customers in the position of having to choose somebody else.
I don't know exactly what the sticking point is with DirecTV but based on what they say to their customers, they've used a number of different arguments and been a moving target. They've questioned whether our fans really want it and how passionate our fans really are, whether it's fair to their non-sports customers, whether the price is too high; there's been a panoply of different answers they've given
. It's been a bit of pin the tail on the donkey. I suspect the real reason is financial to a large extent. But obviously they've just picked up the Lakers' network which is much, much more expensive than our networks so I suspect they can afford it and hope they choose to do it.
Fan question from Scott Wells (@MenanceSocietyUT on Twitter): Why is Notre Dame at USC being played on Thanksgiving weekend but Utah vs. BYU can't?
SCOTT: As a policy, playing a nine-game conference schedule, we don't want more non-conference games in the heart of our schedule. We've grandfathered some like USC/Notre Dame, Stanford/Notre Dame, but it leaves some challenges like the fact that we had Stanford and UCLA play last week and repeat it in the conference championship game. As a long-term policy, we just want conference games to the greatest extent possible during the regular season. We've said going forward that we're not going to add non-conference games after the third or fourth week of the season.
FISCHER: Will there be a move to not have a North/South matchup in the final week of the season to prevent what happened this year with UCLA and Stanford?
SCOTT: It's something we'll look at. This was kind of a perfect storm in that sense this year. The main issue is allowing a Notre Dame game on Thanksgiving weekend. In an ideal world, we want all of the rivalry games [on the final week of the season]. Stanford and Cal fans were upset because the Big Game was in the middle of the season, but they could have played this week. For different reasons, those campuses didn't want to play on Thanksgiving weekend. We've made certain accommodations for our campuses that lead to the occasional quirk in the schedule like we have this season. We'll take a step back and ask if there's anything we can learn from this and look to make adjustments.
Fan question from Dan Smithey (@dan_smithey on Twitter): If a playoff happened this year, Oregon could be left out in favor of two SEC teams, how can you prevent this?
SCOTT: Let me say this: If there were a playoff I would expect Oregon to be in it based on the way the system was devised. We advocated for four conference champions but the collective wisdom was for it to not be based on conference champions and have it based on a selection committee. My point is that if the premise of the question is, 'What if we had a playoff this year?' I would fully expect Oregon to be one of the four teams.
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