SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier this week, Larry Scott was rewarded with a lucrative new contract to continue as commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference through 2016.
He didn't come to Utah to celebrate his new multi-million dollar deal, but he's spending a couple of days at the University of Utah for the first-ever Front Porch Leadership Summit with representatives from all 12 schools in the conference.
The idea of the two-day summit is for provosts from the 12 universities to get together to discuss things such as academic issues, globalization initiatives and how the new Pac-12 networks will enhance conference schools for more than just athletics.
Scott said the idea for the summit dates back to a 2009 discussion he had with then-University of Washington President Mark Emmert, who described athletics as a "front porch" for universities because they generate a lot of attention and promotion as well as a connection for alumni.
"It's clear to me that the Pac-12 is a great athletic brand, but it's also clear to me that it's a very strong academic brand and it's my aim to enhance that even further," Scott said.
Before the summit began Thursday morning at the U.'s new Natural History Museum, Scott took time to discuss various aspects of Pac-12 sports, including the new television deal, how Utah is fitting in so far in its first year in the league and how China may be a part of the league's future.
Scott was very complimentary of the addition of Utah to the conference and he was pleased that it offered to host the first-ever leadership summit. He said the expansion of Utah and Colorado to the league has turned out great.
"It's been terrific," he said. "Utah has brought a great energy to the league. As we expected it's turned out to be a great fit culturally as far as the values and aspirations. It's been pretty seamless from an administrative standpoint. Competitively it's been fun to see the teams compete, we have new rivalries and road trips and matchups that have brought a lot of energy and excitement."
Scott said fans will see a significant change in television coverage next year with no regional coverage and every football and men's basketball game televised along with many of the Olympic sports.
"There will be a dramatic increase in national exposure," Scott said. "We will have 44 games on ESPN and Fox with the other 36 games will be on the Pac-12 network. Every football game will be on television for the first time ever in our conference."
As for basketball, he said, "Basketball will have 68 games on ESPN and FSN. We will have 44 on ESPN, for first time in a long time."
He also said 130 basketball games would be on the Pac-12 network and 40 women's games will be broadcast. He said the league's network is on the "fast track and said the mothership will be a 100,000 square-foot studio in downtown San Francisco.
"It's hard to overstate how dramatic the exposure is going to be for schools and athletic programs next year," Scott said.
Scott talked about getting the Pac-12's brand outside of the United States, particularly in places like China.
He doesn't envision regular-season games being played in China, but he does see opportunities for student-athletes to play on foreign tours and internationally in Pac-12-sponsored competitions.
"They are not only are a great opportunity for our student-athletes, but provide a great platform for our universities to talk about their academic programs," he said. "We're trying to broaden our perspective. It's a tremendous opportunity think about what's the brand of our conference and our schools that we want to project more broadly."
Because of his background as a former professional tennis player and his most recent job running the Women's Tennis Association for six years, Scott has a fondness for the non-revenue sports.
Scott said the recent media deals will help the Olympic sports not only with more exposure, but the money each school receives will help sustain those sports.
"For the foreseeable future some of the pressure has been taken off the Olympic sports, which I'm very passionate about," he said. "It's my hope that over the next few years each of our schools will be able to operate on a self-sustaining basis financially and won't have to rely on university funding. It will also help our sports to recruit nationally."
Scott gushed about the Utah women's gymnastics program and is excited about Utah hosting the Pac-12 gymnastics meet in April.
He said the longtime success of the Utah gymnastics program "shows how you can market a sport outside of football and basketball with a loyal fan base, historical excellence and aggressive marketing promotion. I think it's a great model."
The fact that the Pac-12 is already coming off a mediocre season and only ranked No. 10 in the country for its overall strength, is a big concern to Scott. He said he recently talked to athletic directors about it at a meeting and will meet with league coaches in May.
Scott believes the two down years are "an anomaly" because of a lot of top players going to the NBA after one year and schools losing top players for other reasons.
"I look at the fundamentals — we have high-quality coaches, very good facilities for the most part and a great recruiting base," he said. "What we haven't had is great exposure for our programs compared to other conferences. I think you'll see a turnaround."
Scott said the scheduling partnership between the Pac-12 and Big Ten, announced in December, is exciting for the league and he expects it to begin as soon as next year for basketball and other sports.
He said because of scheduling problems, football scheduling between the two leagues won't begin before 2017 officially, but that some schools, including Utah, might have games with Big 10 opponents before then.