With Pac-12 Falling Behind, Schools Decide Larry Scott Won’t Dig Them Out

The contract was the most lucrative in college sports, but its length meant the Pac-12 was locked in until 2024. The Big Ten zoomed past the Pac-12 with a new deal in 2017 that will expire just when the Pac-12’s deal does, setting it up for another bump. The SEC has done likewise.

The Pac-12 Network, though, has become a fiasco.

By forgoing a network partner, the Pac-12 took on the added expenses of setting up the channel’s infrastructure without the leverage to negotiate contracts with television carriers like Comcast or AT&T. As a result, the Pac-12 Network is in less than 20 million homes, a figure that is dwarfed by the Big Ten Network, the SEC Network and even the year-old ACC Network, which almost immediately was in 57 million homes because of a partnership with ESPN.

Scott’s only play was to sit back and wait for 2024. He suggested that because the media landscape was so volatile with cord-cutting and streaming services, a tech company — Google, Apple, Hulu or Amazon — might offer a jackpot if it had an interest in sports programming.

He tried, without success, to lure a private equity partner for the Pac-12 Network.

As the Pac-12’s football fortunes have continued to sink — a team from the conference hasn’t made the four-team College Football Playoff in the last four seasons — and the revenue gap has grown, a new group of university presidents and athletic directors became ever less patient.

“There is frustration that the money isn’t flowing as quickly as it was originally promised,” Arizona State Athletic Director Ray Anderson said in an interview with The New York Times at the start of the 2019 season.

An argument can be made that a handsome TV contract can cover up a multitude of other shortcomings in a commissioner. In Scott’s case, the deficiencies of the Pac-12’s contract only seemed to accentuate other complaints.

A group of Pac-12 football players described him as condescending after meeting with him in August to push for uniform health and safety standards during the pandemic. The conference’s problems with football referees not measuring up, which Scott was charged with cleaning up when he was hired, continue to persist. Though Scott lined up a key deal with a coronavirus testing company to help the Pac-12 play football this fall, he waffled, waiting three weeks before gathering the presidents to overturn their previous decision to postpone the season.

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