Good idea gone bad

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When the Pacific-12 Conference hired Larry Scott in 2009 to be its commissioner, I approved.

He was a tennis guy. I am a tennis fan. I thought his running the WTA would translate to college athletics. Make a few corporate sponsorship deals. Get a lucrative TV contract, make the conference’s showcase events special and must-attend functions for fans and the national media.

What I didn’t know was Scott thought of himself an emperor with nice clothes. He traveled better than most corporate CEOs, certainly better than his fellow conference commissioners, who also stayed at five-star hotels, flew first class or even private jets rather than go commercial.

If you’re raking in the big bucks and delivering on your promises, perhaps you can justify it. But Scott came up woefully short and today, as the Pac-12 looks for its next commissioner, it does so as somewhat of a laughingstock in the world of big boy college sports.

Football and men’s basketball — the league’s two marquee sports — are well behind the other Power Five conferences. The Pac-12 botched its attempt to form its own network as fans in some of the conference’s cities were unable to watch. for a while.

The football title game has never lived up to the hype despite it moving all over the league. From a national perspective, the last Pac-12 team to participate in the College Football Playoff was Washington in 2017. The Huskies lost to Alabama in the semifinals. Oregon played and lost to Ohio State in the first national title game in 2015.

Scott was instrumental in expanding the conference by adding Utah and Colorado while moving the men’s basketball tournament to Las Vegas in 2012 and those were winning moves. The tourney did well at both the MGM Grand Garden and T-Mobile Arena. Unfortunately, last year’s tournament was short-circuited by the coronavirus as it was canceled after just one day.

Hopefully, it will get played in March. Scott may be there as his contract, worth $5.3 million annually, runs through June 30. More than likely, he’ll have moved on before then.

So how did this go so horribly wrong for the Pac-12? Perhaps the biggest mistake was not bringing in someone who understood college athletics and a league that is widely diversified in terms of academics and its yin and yang with athletics.

Scott drew the wrath of athletic directors who were counting on him to produce revenue to help their bottom lines and find ways to generate money from various sources. The TV deal, in a word, stunk. The very people it was aimed at were unable to watch it. And instead of finding a way to make it work, Scott opted to cut it back to the point where it was useless.

His inability to work with the various presidents and chancellors and help create a policy that made sense didn’t help either. They never seemed to be totally on the same page. Not that it’s easy mind you. But Scott came up woefully short when it came to building consensus with the true power brokers of the Pac-12.

His lavish spending on himself didn’t endear him to many either. His insistence on staying in luxurious bungalows usually reserved for the highest of high rollers when in Las Vegas and his other travels made him an easy target for the media which covered the conference. It led to a strained relationship with Scott and those he could have used and worked with to get the Pac-12’s message out.

Yes, college athletics is big business. And it does take someone with some business acumen to make it work and be profitable. As it turned out, the message was right but the messenger was the wrong one and somehow, that message got garbled in translation.

Remembering the King

While one Larry is preparing to leave, another Larry has already departed.

Larry King was quite the character. He was also a fun guy to listen to on the radio late at night or watch on CNN. Many was the night I’d be driving back up Highway 50 to my home in Cameron Park when I covered the Sacramento Kings in the 1980s and Larry would be talking about something inane. Suddenly … BOISE, IDAHO — HELLO! And he’d chat up a listener before giving the NBA scores (He called it the “Nibba”).

We hadn’t seen much of Larry lately, unless you count his cardboard cutout behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. And yes, he lived to see his beloved Bums (he was from Brooklyn) win one more World Series though I doubt anything will have ever topped 1955.

He was irreverent, eclectic and a bit corny. But, man, he knew how to interview people. His voice was finally silenced last week and we are poorer for it. I’m guessing Larry and Tommy Lasorda are having quite the chat in Blue Heaven.

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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