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

Jan 21, 2021, 5:56 PM | Updated: 10:25 pm
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott speaks at Pac-12 NCAA college football Media Day, Wednesday, July 2...

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)

(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.

Dan Bickley

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, left, talks with quarterback Tyler Buchner (12) during the secon...
Dan Bickley

Madcap world of college football head coaches’ salaries have gone wild

Every so often, a sordid story returns to college campuses, threatening the sanctity of all that is good and pure: Salaries Gone Wild.
2 days ago
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals reacts at head linesman Jerry Bergman #91 after...
Dan Bickley

Why both Kingsbury, Edwards will remain the Valley’s football coaches

Once in the firing line, both Kliff Kingsbury and Herm Edwards will keep their head coaching jobs in Arizona after this season.
4 days ago
Owner Michael Bidwill of the Arizona Cardinals reacts after the team beat the Seattle Seahawks 23-1...
Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns racing to break title droughts

The Cardinals are the best team in the NFL. The Suns have won 13 consecutive regular season games. Who gets to a championship first?
9 days ago
Colt McCoy #12 of the Arizona Cardinals throws the ball during the second quarter against the Seatt...
Dan Bickley

Colt McCoy’s play making Kyler Murray’s injury issues irrelevant for Cardinals

Well done, Colt McCoy. And with all due respect, we hope we’ve seen the last of you on a football field in 2021. 
10 days ago
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns looks on before the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Ce...
Dan Bickley

Chris Paul’s leadership keeping outside noise away from the Suns

While an NBA investigation looms over the Phoenix Suns, point guard Chris Paul has taken his play and leadership to another level.
15 days ago
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury runs off the field after an NFL football game against ...
Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals’ lethargic loss to Panthers hopefully just a blip

The Cardinals' loss to the Panthers had a few concerning trends inside of it that hopefully won't carry over to the rest of the year.
18 days ago
Pac-12’s required makeover starts with finding right commissioner