Larry Scott's vision realized in new Pac-12 Conference

By Antonio Gonzalez

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 30 2011 2:51 p.m. MDT

SAN FRANCISCO — Larry Scott was wrapping up a late business lunch at a downtown San Francisco restaurant this week, taking one last sip of coffee, parting ways with a handshake and sliding one booth over to start another meeting with new visitors almost simultaneously.

A year after rocking the college sports world with expansion plans, the commissioner of what officially becomes the Pac-12 Conference on Friday with new members Utah and Colorado doesn't waste a moment. There's a network to launch, marketing opportunities to pursue and a host of other issues to capitalize on with the momentum behind the league's growing national spotlight.

So the question had to be asked: Does he ever take a vacation?

"I've managed to squeeze them in," he said, chuckling.

How he's found time is anybody's guess.

Since taking over a conference that was stuck in neutral in July 2009, Scott has orchestrated college sports' largest TV deal, restructured the league and its tournaments, saved sports from being slashed, pulled rival programs together to share revenue and put the nation on notice: The Pac-12 is not just a BCS conference, it's reshaping college athletics.

"I think it's fair to say we exceeded expectations significantly," Scott told The Associated Press this week on the eve of the two-year anniversary of his tenure. "And I'm really as charged up as when I started."

It's no coincidence Scott has led the league to long-sought innovation.

While chairman of the Women's Tennis Association, he pressured the establishment to give equal prize money for women in Grand Slam events. He made the topic not only a marketing ploy but a moral issue in an age where being politically incorrect doesn't fly.

In a major coup to accomplish his goal, he persuaded star Venus Williams to speak before a committee at Wimbledon a day before her 2005 final — not easy in a sport driven by routine.

"He's like a great chess player. He sees many moves ahead," said Andrew Walker, the WTA's chief marketing officer.

Added U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez: "He has tremendous vision in marketing the game, in thinking forward."

That was just the kind of fresh approach the conference craved.

Geographically concentrated on the West Coast away from conventional networks and sponsors, athletic departments were hit even harder during the economic downturn and former commissioner Tom Hansen's tenure was drying up. There was almost unanimous support for a new direction.

A wide-ranging search targeted more than 60 candidates around the country from all types of backgrounds. Scott, a former Harvard tennis player who also spent time with the men's ATP Tour as a player and executive, didn't even apply.

After living in Australia, Monaco, London and Florida, among other stops, he wasn't sure about moving his family again when he was approached by a private company hired by the league to find a replacement. With the conference's television rights deal expiring in the summer of 2011, he also realized there was tremendous potential for growth.

"I have this entrepreneurial bug about me," he said. "For me, my satisfaction has to come from if I'm motivated or excited or do I see another hill to climb."

Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby was chairman of the search committee and, along with college presidents and departments heads, he wanted someone outside of intercollegiate sports with a background in marketing and the political wrangling needed to pull off major moves. Scott was the perfect fit.

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