Larry Scott: Perception of Pac-12 wastefulness is ‘incorrect’
As the Pac-12 eyes a Nov. 7 return to the football field, commissioner Larry Scott continues to combat another round of criticism.
The events triggered by the coronavirus pandemic have only refocused the microscope on the conference’s decisions.
On one-hand, the Pac-12 only moved forward with a football season once layers of daily testing for the virus were available. It’s not a bad thing to show cautiousness about its athletes’ health, especially after other conferences moved forward and needed to cancel or postpone football games due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
But now Pac-12 football teams will play two or more fewer games than other Power Five teams also pushing for College Football Playoff appearances. It heightens the chance of the conference missing out on a CFP bid once again.
The Pac-12 has also gone through two rounds of staff layoffs and implemented furloughs. The second of those came after Scott paid executives, including himself, a total of $4 million in bonuses, reported the Mercury News’ Jon Wilner.
Juxtaposed next to flailing TV ratings, the long-ago failed deal to carry the Pac-12 Networks on DirecTV and the conference’s exorbitant San Francisco rent, it is not a good look.
Scott, however, disagrees with the perception that his conference has wasted money or unfairly reduced its workforce amid the coronavirus pandemic. Other major sports leagues, media entities and teams have done the same.
“I think there’s a perception out there that’s just incorrect in my view,” Scott told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta. “I think what people have a tough time (doing), comparing apples to apples, is the other conferences … (that) also have their own networks, their networks are run by outside entities. So they don’t have the head-count, they don’t have rent, they don’t have other things, but folks don’t seem to be able to make that distinction.
“When people look at the Pac-12, we (had) 200 people who work for the Pac-12 Networks,” Scott added. “The office space, the technology and everything that goes with that people lump together. We’re also based in San Francisco. That decision to be in the Bay Area certainly preceded me.”
But the Pac-12 Network, the media and content side, did launch under Scott at prime downtown San Francisco real estate in 2012. The conference signed an 11-year lease. Scott moved the conference’s executive offices into the same property from Walnut Creek, Calif., two years later.
According to The Oregonian’s John Canzano, rent cost $6.9 million last year with $11.7 million more in deferred rent. The Big Ten and SEC pay less than $2 million each for their conference homes in Chicago and Birmingham, Ala., respectively.
The Pac-12 went through an approximately 8% reduction in its work force in April just after the pandemic hit, and most of that was on the content side, according to Wilner. Scott took a 20% salary reduction, and other top executives took 10% paycuts.
Then came the millions in bonuses handed out a month before about half of the staff — including the entire digital content team — was laid off or furloughed. Wilner reported that Scott’s bonus was $2.5 million.
Scott told Bickley & Marotta he does not feel like he’s lost support from Pac-12 university presidents and chancellors, who are ultimately his bosses.
“Not at all, no,” Scott said. “Look, there’s a lot of rumor and speculation and that comes with the territory in a very public-facing role.”
He added that speculation about his job status has not inhibited his work, which has recently included those tough decisions to “tighten the belt” financially.
Scott believes the conference owning its own rights rather than giving companies like FOX and ESPN the ability to hold the rights will pay off in the long-run.
The Pac-12 will need a new media rights agreement in 2024, and companies like Apple have reportedly expressed interest in making such deals with the college sports conference.
“(The Pac-12 Network) achieved a lot of what its objectives were,” Scott said. “We have 850 events (in a regular year). We give more exposure to our sports than any other conference is able to … it has not reached its full potential for sure in terms of distribution and I know the DirecTV issue has been a huge irritant.”