There's been a lot of give-and-take, but I feel confident that the five conferences are going to get the autonomy and flexibility we've been asking for to be more nimble and to make some important changes that benefit student-athletes. —Larry Scott
The first day of the annual Pac-12 football media days was chock full of interesting tidbits — mostly from conference Commissioner Larry Scott, who talked about the future of the conference.
Scott discussed everything from the upcoming FBS playoff system to the future of collegiate athletics in general.
Meanwhile, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham spoke to media about Utah's upcoming season.
Scott had a lot to say
Despite the words of Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the sky is not on the verge of falling, according to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. The commissioner had plenty to speak about to kick off the conference’s media days. Scott appeared cheerful and optimistic in his opening statement regarding the future of the conference.
For starters, Scott said he believes the eventual Pac-12 winner will be one of the four schools in the inaugural FBS playoff. Though he avoided the word “autonomy” for the first 20 minutes of his lengthy opening address, he eventually said he believes the Pac-12 is worthy for an automatic bid into the playoff.
“There's been a lot of give-and-take, but I feel confident that the five conferences are going to get the autonomy and flexibility we've been asking for to be more nimble and to make some important changes that benefit student-athletes,” Scott said.
Scott also said the current athlete system isn’t as far off as other conference commissioners, such as Bowlsby, have feared. However, he said changes need to be made.
“The collegiate model is working for the vast majority of student-athletes,” Scott said in his opening statement. He added that roughly 2 percent of Pac-12 football players will get drafted into the NFL and 3 percent of Pac-12 athletes will play in the NBA.
“You can’t design a system around the 2 percent,” he added.
Scott noted that the conference will invest $3.5 million per year on health studies for all athletes.
Whittingham’s two concerns: Keep the QB healthy and finish strong in close games
In an interview with the Pac-12 Network, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham said his two major goals for this season are to keep whoever the quarterback is healthy and to close out well in close games. He said Travis Wilson would be the starting quarterback “if we had a game tomorrow,” but said nothing was certain down the road.
In another interview, Whittingham added the importance of keeping the team’s quarterback healthy.
“2008 was the last time we had a quarterback start the season and finish the season. So it's been a tough run in that respect,” the Utes coach said. “Travis is the pinnacle staff has indicated to me and to him that he's at no greater risk than anybody else with this condition that he has.”
Whittingham on Langi? No comment
One of the hot topics Whittingham was asked Wednesday was about running back/defensive end Harvey Langi, who reportedly wants to leave Utah for BYU or elsewhere. As expected, Whittingham’s overwhelming response to the question almost never changed throughout the day: “No comment.”
All eyes on Marcus Mariota
The Oregon Ducks are the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12, and Marcus Mariota is already one of the large preseason Heisman Award favorites. Of the various football questions Mariota was asked throughout the day, perhaps the most interesting involved his playing style.
The NFL is changing a little bit," Mariota told NFL.com reporter Bryan Fischer. "The prototypical quarterback seems to be a little bit more mobile now. At the same time, if you can't throw the ball with the best of them, then you won't get an opportunity. You have great assets if you're a dual-threat, but you still have to throw from the pocket and do all those types of things."
However, his involvement in the classroom also garnered a fair share of attention. Mariota could have left early for the NFL but chose to return to Oregon to earn his degree in science.
"I want to work somewhere in the lines of sports medicine or physical therapy," Mariota told Oregonian reporter Molly Blue. "I like working with athletes I enjoy that. I like helping athletes and doing something along the lines of that."
Everybody wanted to talk to new USC coach Steve Sarkisian
Any time a head coach bolts for a new team within the same conference he was previously coaching at, the first day both schools are in the same place can get a little interesting. Sure enough, former Washington head coach turned USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was one popular man on the first day of Wednesday’s Pac-12 extravaganza.
The best storyline? Sarkisian told Tacoma News Tribune Washington Huskies beat writer Christian Caple he wishes he hadn’t done any interview with a Seattle radio station on the day he left to coach the Trojans. To recap, Sarkisian told the radio station that he hadn’t interviewed with USC — a few hours before announcing he was headed to sunny California.
“Honestly, in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have done that interview that morning, but I had committed to the interview,” Sarkisian told Caple. “I did the interview, there was nothing done, I hadn’t accepted the job at USC yet. Hindsight’s 20/20 in those moments. I probably should have stayed out of interviews and stayed away from cameras. But I did it. I tried to handle it to the best of my ability.”
We also learned he’s taking that breakup well.
Sarkisian on Washington: I can honestly say Im going to be rooting for those guys this fall. Notes in different division than USC.— Ted Miller (@TedMillerRK) July 23, 2014
New helmets for everyone?
Each school was given a pearl-white helmet with a silver logo for media day. The running joke throughout the first hour of Pac-12 media day from every team was something along of “we got new gear! Just kidding!” And if the great Utes’ new jersey scare of last week proved anything, people could have believed it.
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Fan of the white on white helmets? Every school on display. pic.twitter.com/uMEEnTynUu— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) July 23, 2014