Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Q&A with the commissioner about the success of Pac-12 women's basketball

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Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott spoke to the media gathered Sunday for the conference’s women’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas, about an hour before Stanford defeated Oregon to win the tournament title.

Scott spoke about a range of subjects of great interest to west coast women’s basketball fans, from the first postseason tournament in Las Vegas, to the strength of the conference, to the possibility of a “Super Regional” format for the women’s NCAA Tournament and the future of a NCAA Women’s Final Four bid from a west coast city.

Q. How do you believe this tournament has gone thus far?

A. We have quite a few ranked teams coming into the tournament, and having two top 10-ranked teams in the championship game is great. This is exactly the kind of stage we hoped for here, our first year in Las Vegas. We are delighted with how it’s going, with the crowds that are here, and the feedback we’ve gotten.

We will do a full debrief of the tournament, but I think people are very pleased with what they’ve seen and happy with the fan turnout for this first year. It’s something we have the potential to build upon.

Now we are looking forward, going into the NCAA Tournament and seeing where teams get seeded. The stat I saw, over the last three years, the Pac-12 has won more NCAA Tournament games than any other conference. That indicates how the conference has really emerged as one of the elites, if not the best conference in the country right now. We are excited where this sport has come to and the stage we’ve got for it.

Q. Upgrading the tournament coverage this year with the studio show, was that a reflection of the quality of play in the league? What was the thought behind that?

A. We have such an elite conference right now, a lot of people are focused on these games, the ratings are good, we’ve got a lot of attention. We felt that this was a sport at this stage where we could not only make a big commitment with the number of games that we program, over 100 games telecast this year I believe, but in the quality of the production, the features, the studio shows.

It shows up in a lot of different ways. There are a lot of different levers you can turn up or turn down in terms of how we balance our coverage. Women’s basketball, as it has improved and gotten better and we’ve become so relevant on a national stage, we wanted to make sure that the treatment of it is at the level it deserves, trying to give it the big-time feel that it deserves, the stage it deserves.  

I saw (Oregon) Coach (Kelly) Graves on the way over, and I was talking to him about the experience and he said ‘This has got a NCAA Tournament feel to it,’. Two top 10 teams playing, a big stage, well-produced broadcasts, a lot of media around it, that was gratifying for me to hear. There is also the competitive element to it. These games get our teams ready for the NCAA Tournament, so if this feels like a big stage, if it feels big-time, our teams are that much more prepared when the tournament starts.

Q. What kind of improvements would you like to make to the tournament after a year in Las Vegas?

A. I haven’t gotten a full debrief yet. I imagine it will be in the area of logistical things. We are in a different arena, with people in different hotels, the way people move around…after every event there’s always a list of things you can do better.

We made a two-year commitment to be here, timed to the development project at Key Arena in Seattle. We are very happy with the tournament there and very happy with the Seattle Storm group.

Q. Have you discussed the “Super Regional” concept (in which all 16 teams that reach the regional round compete on the same weekend in Las Vegas to earn trips to the Final Four) with broadcaster Debbie Antonelli?

A. I have met with Debbie about it. She sent me her outline and I have talked to some of my colleagues about it. I think it’s a very creative and intriguing idea whose time may come soon.

I think Las Vegas is one of the few places that it could makes sense. Multiple arenas, a lot of hotel capacity…one of the things our fans love about Las Vegas is the frequency of flights, it’s relatively inexpensive, well-located, easy to get to, experiences for all kinds of different price points. There’s no doubt it would be a fan favorite for folks. And the city has the capacity to handle event of that scale, magnitude and complexity. It would be very interesting to consider that.

It would be a very different approach to the regional, but I’ve certainly been in favor of the NCAA considering the postseason here. (NCAA President) Mark Emmert been to Las Vegas, he has been a guest to our men’s events, and we’ve had him meet with officials here. I think the NCAA policy about the postseason has evolved and is still evolving. I think the NCAA postseason in Las Vegas is more a question of when, not if.

The idea of a “Super Regional” is a bit outside of the box. But I think in women’s basketball, I’ve been an advocate for testing and experimenting with different formats. Sometimes it’s hard in an association like the NCAA to get people to be willing to test new concepts, because you need so many different people to buy in. But I’d like to see it happen.

Q. With it having been such a long time since the west coast has hosted a Women’s Final Four (since 1999), and with a regional coming to Portland, is there a path for the Pac-12 to help encourage a west coast Final Four bid?

A.  Certainly, we have a role to play to help a school or city. But they have to want to do it and be the promoter and sign up for the obligations, but certainly we would encourage it. I think Portland’s regional this year will be a great thing for women’s basketball on the west coast and for our schools, and I think that could help seed interest in some of our markets wanting to go bigger from there and hosting a Final Four.

Q. Do you think the Portland organizers view this as a trial balloon for a Final Four bid?

A. I haven’t heard this per se, but they have big ambitions. They had a massive event last year to honor Phil Knight’s 80th birthday for basketball, with multiple venues and a lot of teams, and that, followed by the regional this year…I can see it.

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page. She was just named winner of the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball.

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