Larry Scott’s tenure is over, and hold the applause until the end
When I think of Larry Scott in the future — and blessedly, that shouldn’t be too often — I’m going to remember a personal saga fairly early in his 12-year tenure as Pac-12 commissioner.
Before we go any further, let’s note that his regime ends today, June 30, and you can almost hear the horns honking and the ticker-tape parade in downtown San Francisco, where under Scott the league offices set up shop in one of the world’s spendiest locales.
I had DirecTV at home in the early years of Scott’s regime. But in August of 2012, the league inaugurated the Pac-12 Networks, and since my livelihood depended heavily on covering the conference, I knew I needed to figure out a way to view that programming.
We were led to believe it would be a short wait for the Pac-12 to get DirecTV on board, but then, we were led to believe a lot of things under Scott. That didn’t happen in a month, or two months, or a year or two years. Or ever. On Aug. 15, it will be nine years since the Networks debuted. (For old times’ sake, maybe today we should appeal for a final one of Scott’s endless appearances in front of a media circle, saying there’s nothing new to report on the negotiations.)
The Pac-12’s dispute with DirecTV stands as one of the most grievous, incomprehensible miscalculations of Scott’s 12 years as Pac-12 commissioner.
I digress. I could have switched carriers, but I liked DirecTV’s baseball offerings. Thus, I decided to try to stream some Pac-12 events. So, off to Fry’s to buy an HDMI cable, and hook it up, and place a computer on a table to watch basketball games.
The resolution was fuzzy at best. And every so often, the action would just stop, and I guess, have to reload. It was laughable.
That was Larry Scott’s Pac-12 Networks.
About a year into the life of the Networks, I did a piece for my old paper, the Seattle Times, on the impasse. And I asked Lydia Murphy-Stephans, president of the Networks, if they could be considered a success without distribution by DirecTV. She said, “Unequivocally, absolutely. If we’re entering year seven without DirecTV, I may have a different answer. Entering year two, we’re a smashing success.”
Larry Scott hoodwinked us, all of us. That includes me. It includes a savvy media-research operative, who predicted big money for the Pac-12 and the Networks. It includes the Pac-12 presidents, who were too busy tending to crises on their own campuses to realize what a mess things were becoming on multiple fronts in the conference. In retrospect, the big TV deals with Fox and ESPN of 2011 were a grand illusion, struck less than two years after Scott had taken office and giving him cover for the serial missteps his administration would soon engineer.
How many times did we hear what a bonanza it was going to be for the Pac-12 that it had sole ownership of the Networks rather than taking on a partner?
I won’t try to enumerate all of Scott’s screwups and misjudgments; they’ve been well reported already. But he was a champion at overpromising and underdelivering, and the fact he was paid $5 million a year – just one example of his conference run extravagantly – was a travesty.
We owe an apology to Tom Hansen. He was Scott’s predecessor, and, almost 71 when he retired, was viewed as out of touch with college athletics in his last years on the job. And maybe he was. But he didn’t con anybody.
I did a detailed profile of Hansen in 2007, two years from his regime’s end, and remember making two points: That the league was perpetually fighting the battle of time-zone inequality, and that fans in the West tend to be a lot less dialed in to their sports than elsewhere. They have choices. Those remain major challenges for the Pac-12, no matter the commissioner.
All I know is, it’s June 30. The heat wave has subsided, and so, finally, has Larry Scott.