SALT LAKE CITY — Larry Scott is a good person to have at the podium, considerate and maybe even courtly. The rudest thing he said last week — when asked about a newspaper series skewering his management of the Pac-12 — was that some things were “mischaracterized.”
He earnestly answers questions as though interviewing for a job. That could be his next step if things don’t improve. The conference and its commissioner are taking hits on everything from operating costs, to officiating, to a lack of elite teams, to Scott’s $4.8 million salary.
When the bowl games were announced Sunday, no Pac-12 teams were invited to the College Football Playoff. Only one was selected for a New Year’s Six bowl. Washington was locked into the Rose Bowl after beating Utah last Friday.
Critical stories have been popping up for months, but they’re appearing with increasing frequency. Despite Scott’s insistence the ship is moving steadily forward, that’s not necessarily the vibe at ground level. University administrators such as Cal’s Carol Christ and Washington State’s Kirk Schulz have publicly expressed concerns.
Scott says if the cost of operating the Pac-12 Network isn’t included in the calculations, conference expenditures are in line with its peers. But the network hasn’t met revenue expectations. Chris Hill, the recently retired Utah athletic director, told 1280 The Zone, “It sure doesn’t pass the classic cliché of the eyeball test.”
It would be hard to convince anyone the Pac-12 is making inroads compared to other conferences. All it takes is a look at the championship game between Utah and Washington on Friday. Official attendance was 35,134 in 68,500-seat Levi’s Stadium. Actual attendance appeared south of that.
Officiating rose to the forefront again at championship game’s end. Replays seemed to indicate that on Utah’s fourth-down, last-gasp play, Siaosi Mariner was interfered by Washington’s Byron Murphy, but no call came. The response by Utah fans — and many others — on social media was quick and vicious.
Asked afterward if he got an explanation from officials, Kyle Whittingham tersely said, “No. No explanation. Zero explanation.”
As for being “fired up” with indignation about the no-call, Whittingham told reporters, “Wouldn’t you be? Did you see the same thing I saw? I don’t know how I can say anything without getting fined, but I’m used to it.”
The Pac-12 was rocked by controversy in September, when general counsel Woodie Dixon called the conference’s replay center during a game and triggered the overturning of a call, though he had no authority to do so. Scott later apologized for having “mixed administrative oversight with real-time replay calls.”
Oregonian columnist John Canzano’s series last week on the state of the conference shed light on why the Pac-12 has hit choppy waters, in part due to the high cost of maintaining the Pac-12 Network. But other issues exist, such as rental space in downtown San Francisco, travel distances and Scott’s spending patterns. Conference-wide attendance is modest in football and embarrassing in basketball. The league went 1-8 in bowl game last year, the only win being Utah’s Heart of Dallas Bowl victory.
Scott speaks glowingly of sponsor partnerships and touts the conference winning twice as many national championships as any other league last year. But there hasn’t been a basketball championship since 1997, and in football the last consensus champion was USC in 2004. The Trojans ended up vacating that title due to NCAA violations.
After gaining renewal on the richest contract of any conference commissioner, Scott will be paid through 2022. Whether he’ll hold his job that long is another issue.
Scott is unperturbed.
“We know where we’re going,” he said on Friday.
Actually telling Scott where to go was in the minds of many Utah fans, who have been critical of the conference’s officiating and inability to secure top bowl invitations. This comes from a fan base that loved Scott for backing the Utes’ admission in 2011.45 comments on this story
Scott points out that nine teams reached the top 25 this season. That had little if any sway when the big bowls made their picks Sunday. The glamorous West Coast conference was dismissed as a lightweight. Meanwhile, Scott calls the conference’s expenditures “very efficient.” One thing that’s not terribly efficient is the way the Pac-12 is presenting itself. Scott was booed at the trophy presentation ceremony after Friday’s championship game.
The commissioner has become a bigger story than his conference.
Even for a league that has two Hollywood area teams, this is drama you can’t make up.