January 20, 2021 is a day that will go down in history. It will be remembered as the day a terrible leader was finally removed from office. Some called him a tyrant, others simply thought he was dangerously incompetent. Almost everyone on the West Coast agreed he posed a serious threat to our way of life. When his time came, we feared he wouldn’t leave the job without a fight. But today, we learned that our fears were unfounded: Larry Scott has been fired as Pac-12 Commissioner.
Scott has shouldered the blame for all sorts of bad outcomes for the conference, from big to small. The headliner on his resume is a media rights deal that has proven disastrous for the Pac-12. He envisioned an expanded Pac-10 that would include Texas and Oklahoma. Instead, he got Utah, Colorado, and a much weaker bargaining position. The resulting TV deal has left the Pac-12 schools far behind the other Power 5 conferences in TV money, which is, of course, a huge component of total revenue.
Likewise, Scott’s Pac-12 Network has failed on multiple fronts. Scott again overplayed his hand in negotiations and learned that there wasn’t enough demand for the fees he demanded. The outcome was a poorly subscribed network that did not generate significant revenue and minimized the exposure for teams in the conference.
On a smaller scale, Scott has had the opposite of the Midas Touch on less impactful decisions. The exorbitant Pac-12 offices in San Francisco don’t cost enough to make a major impact on the conference’s bottom line, the optics are bad when revenues are already behind. The incessant “Pac-12 refs” hashtag/punchline is another embarrassment, made worse by the conference’s involvement in the infamous USC-WSU targeting review.
Many of these failures would be forgiven if the Pac-12 was winning big games in big sports. Instead, the conference has hit a competitive low point. The Pac-12 has been routinely overmatched in New Year’s Day bowls and in the rare occasions that a conference representative has made the CFP. The conference has suffered ignominious non-conference losses to inferior teams from lesser conferences. The same has been true on the hardwood. The conference of John Wooden hasn’t produced a true title contender in years, struggles to match other major conferences in March Madness participation, and has seen Gonzaga emerge as the regional powerhouse.
There are some mitigating factors in Scott’s defense. He is not to blame for a generational shift away from football on the West Coast that has shrunk the conference’s recruiting footprint. Even if Scott’s media rights deal has had a negative impact on demand for the product, he’s not solely responsible for the fact that college football is a higher priority- financially, emotionally, everything else-ally- in the South and Central parts of the country than it is in the West. Scott also is not to blame for the fact that Pac-12 superpower USC has employed a steady string of mediocre coaches since Pete Carroll.
Nonetheless, Scott did more than enough to lose his job. The conference will be far better off with another negotiator at the table in the next round of media rights negotiations. Scott has not demonstrated steady leadership nor a vision for how the conference can remain competitive as the athletic landscape of the coast evolves. His successor will have to be someone who sees that picture more clearly and can execute it more effectively.