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Dan Bickley

Pac-12’s required makeover starts with finding right commissioner

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott speaks at Pac-12 NCAA college football Media Day, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Pac-12 needs a new commissioner. The search begins inside the box.

No more visionaries, ex-politicos or luminaries from other industries. A damaged conference needs someone who intimately understands the Pac-12, including its blind spots and potholes. It needs someone who understands football. It needs someone who will fly commercial.

It needs someone who knows how to get there without looking at a map.

The Pac-12 needs a commissioner who will make and distribute more money for its member schools and someone who will spend less on conference headquarters and his/her creature comforts. The agenda is very clear. The party is over. No more gravy sucking pigs. The next commissioner of the Pac-12 can blame Larry Scott for the sudden emphasis on austerity.

The next Pac-12 commissioner can’t waste time, either. He or she can’t afford to spend months learning the landscape, like Tony La Russa on a fact-finding mission about the Diamondbacks. There are three excellent candidates with Arizona ties. Each would surely champion conference relocation to the Valley. They know where to find vacant warehouses near the airport.

Those candidates are Greg Byrne, 49; Gene Smith, 61; and Ray Anderson, 64. Smith and Byrne represent Ohio State and Alabama, respectively, where they live football at its highest level. They know the cost to be the boss. Meanwhile, Anderson is extremely shrewd, has a NFL background, understands high-level negotiations and has done great things at Arizona State. Any would be a fabulous hire.

The conference has a litany of competitive issues. The Pac-12 is now viewed as a tag-along conference, like the Australian Open in tennis or the PGA Championship in golf. They have a reputation for sort of caring about football, but what they really love is a parade. Oh, and they love their Olympic sports. Conference of Champions, ya know.

Their game-day officials are a punch line. Their fan bases are mostly dispassionate and easily distracted. Big-daddy donors aren’t exactly lining up at the door.

When it comes to national television exposure, they mostly play for scraps. They haven’t won a football championship since USC in 2004, producing zero College Football Playoff appearances in the past four seasons. They haven’t won a basketball championship since Arizona in 1997, and while their Las Vegas-based conference tournament is a smash hit, their regular season, partner-school travel schedule has become a big yawn. In both revenue-generating sports, blue-chip recruits are suddenly fleeing for the Pac-12 amenities of the Deep South, something that seemed unfathomable 10 years ago.

The Pac-12 sorely needs a dazzling, sizzling team to capture the nation’s imagination and gain national respect once again, like Pete Carroll did at USC. Like Lute Olson did at Arizona. That is the spark that will light this fire.

Meanwhile, the next commissioner has to get busy planning, plotting and strategizing for the future. They need a bigger platform. They need greater distribution. They need the right broadcast partner who can market the unmistakable vibe of the Pac-12.

Look around. Most conferences are regional, full of homogenous, cookie-cutter universities. Not the Pac-12, which features a rich tapestry of cities and cultures, from the sparkling Pacific Ocean to the rugged Pacific Northwest, from the mountains of Colorado to the sunsets in Arizona.

The next commissioner must already know all of this stuff, including just how messed up the Pac-12 has become under Scott’s tenure, from perceptions to fundamentals. That should narrow the list considerably.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier