In case you are wondering, I'm still not over the DirecTV debacle.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's begin this article with a statement of the obvious: Larry Scott is not an idle commissioner. In an offseason that should otherwise be somewhat bland, Scott and his merry band of athletic marauders have been raiding the lands of the inert and indecisive. Consider that since the NCAA Basketball Tournament concluded, Scott has:
- Responded to fan complaints about night games by installing a new 11am time slot for football kickoffs
- Implemented a "neutral site" strategy for the Pac 12 Football Championship game
- Re-engaged in negotiations with DirecTV following the AT&T acquisition of the satellite provider
- Created a new buzz-term that will soon become part of normal NCAA lexicon: "Conference Autonomy"
- Spearheaded the prosecution of the case for NCAA reform - highlighted by calls for new standards related to student-athlete health, modernized "full cost of attendance" compensation for scholarship athletes and updated enforcement of academic standards for member institutions
- Questioned the "one and done" phenomenon in Men's Basketball
Oh, and along the way, he also happened to report $334M in conference revenue - a record not only for the Pac12 but for any conference. With a total compensation package somewhere slightly north of $3M annually, the NCAA's top-compensated commissioner still looks like one hell of a bargain.
Many of you probably consider yourselves traditionalists when it comes to your beloved college football and, I'm sure, are feeling more and more unsettled with all of the change that is being pushed by Scott and the Pac 12. Based on my crude analysis of what is getting circulated in our comment sections, out on Twitter and in some other forums (yes, I occasionally glance at the ESPN and Seattle Times comment areas), there are many changes that fans would prefer not to see.
A good example of such a change is the dedication of Santa Clara - new home of the San Francisco 49ers - as the new home for the P12 Football Championship Game. This move has been almost unanimously panned by the fans of teams outside of the Bay Area ... and with good reason. However, it can't be denied that the ability for the conference to plan out logistics for an event such as this further out in the future creates economic efficiencies that are real and create opportunities for promotion that cannot be easily replicated under the old model of rotating sites. A new age business decision in the new age of college football - an age that levers the massive popularity of the sport to prop up entire athletic departments.
Beyond just these "new age" business decisions, there are the practical matters of administration that are also getting pushed aggressively by Scott and his allies. Again, the traditionalists amongst you (and, I admit that I often fall in that camp), have made many arguments against the need to alter the economics of athletic scholarships to account for "full cost of attendance" or to insert more control and monitoring of how athletes are coached / trained relative to academic workload. The old adage of "if it ain't broke ..." would seem to apply.
I admit that the NCAA seems to have done just fine under the old way of doing things. It is precisely due to this success, however, that driving change is imperative. Scott recognizes that forces are at work that are going to reshape the NCAA and college athletics, whether or not he sits on the sideline while it happens. Just this week, we saw the start of the Ed O'Bannon trial against the NCAA. We've had the recent settlement with EA Sports. The Rashad McCants scandal regarding academic fraud at UNC is now a thing. The threat of unionization remains a real concern. All of these matters are happening whether or not us fans want to acknowledge them. Undoubtedly, reforms will follow.
Larry Scott is right to get in front of these issues and attempt to shape the reform before it ultimately shapes him. While I have been a critic of how he has handled his deals with the cable and satellite companies, I have a high level of confidence in both the integrity and the competence of this Pac 12 commissioner. I trust that he has the ultimate interests of the student athletes in mind even as he represents the administrative and economic interests of his member institutions. With the right moral and ethical foundations in place, I trust that the changes that Larry Scott and his team are advocating for will ultimately do more good than harm and positively impact the sports that we all enjoy.
Of course, I would be remiss not to add my two cents on priorities, so allow me the opportunity to share a few dots on things that I would emphasize on the Larry Scott agenda.
- Full Cost of Attendance
I'm in support of recalculating and normalizing the way that scholarships are administered. In today's world, student athletes generally do not receive any cash as part of their scholarship. There is "compensation" to speak of, but simple things like what constitutes the definition of the "meal" are sadly inconsistent and poorly articulated. In addition, the demands put on the student athlete make it impossible for them to engage in jobs that would help them fund simple things like going to movies and making trips home during holidays. This may sound trite, but all of these little issues are adding up and creating an imbalanced situation between universities. There are clearly ways to modernize this system without resorting to "paying players" and I think that Larry Scott is right to emphasize this.
- Player Health Initiatives
This is another issue that Larry Scott and his colleagues are already all over ... and rightly so. As the conference coffers grow, there should be a required reinvestment in the health maintenance infrastructure that student-athletes, even graduated athletes, have access to. While there are many issues that can be born from this (e.g., what are the right standards? should the standards be consistent across members? etc), it would seem that the overarching interest in trying to ensure that athletes leave their programs in as good if not better physical health than what they entered should be a top priority.
- Digital Rights and More Ubiquitous Fan Access
You knew I wouldn't be able to leave this one alone. Without knowing all of the facts related to how the negotiations between the P12N and the cable companies ultimately went down, it is hard to be critical on specific issues. However, I can state the obvious: Pac 12 fans outside of school markets have very limited options when it comes to accessing P12 content. I can also state another obvious observation: the current business model enjoyed by cable and satellite operators is becoming significantly disinter-mediated. You can already see today that millions of people have "cut the cable" in favor of streaming content services. Major sports is the one thing that is keeping sports fans tethered to their cable contracts. It won't be long before the sports leagues realize the full inherent value of their digital streaming rights and invest in the infrastructure that allows for them fully lever those rights. Scott and the Pac12 may have already squandered a great deal of that value, but that shouldn't stop them from considering their strategy for reclaiming that value and updating their innovation plan for making that digital content more accessible to fans, no matter where in the world they reside or what devices they wish to use to access it.
I'm sure there are many other things that are high priority on your collective radar screens and I look forward to the ensuing debate in our comments section. For me, I've become resigned to the fact that the game that I grew up loving has changed. The Pac 8 is now the Pac 12. Uniform combos have replaced traditional garb. Instant replay. Football Playoffs. These changes have already come and, guess what, I still love it. I'll embrace this next wave of change and do so with full confidence that Larry Scott has it under control. Even if I hate the idea of the Huskies winning their first P12 championship in the 49ers home stadium.