Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott is stepping down at the end of June, ending an 11-year tenure in which the conference landed a transformational billion dollar television deal but struggled to keep up with some of its Power Five peers when it came to revenue and exposure.
The Pac-12 announced Wednesday night that the 56-year-old Scott and university presidents who make up the league’s executive committee mutually agreed that he would not seek a new contract.
“It’s been quite the amazing journey," Scott told AP. “There's a lot of change going on in college sports. There's been a lot of change in our conference. I'm ready for the next chapter.”
Scott’s current deal was set to expire June 2022, but instead he will finish out this academic year to assist with the transition to his successor.
Scott said the decision came together quickly after a routine meeting with the Pac-12's executive committee last week.
“There’s never a perfect time, but this felt pretty good," Scott said.
Scott came to the Pac-12 in 2009 with no experience as a college sports administrator after two decades working in professional tennis, including a stint as the chairman and CEO of the Women's Tennis Association. He replaced Tom Hansen in 2009.
“We appreciate Larry’s pioneering efforts in growing the conference by adding new competitive university programs and accelerating the Pac-12 to television network parity with the other conferences,” University of Oregon President Michael Schill said in a statement. “At one point, our television agreement was the most lucrative in the nation and the debut of the Pac-12 Network helped deliver our championship brand to US and global markets on traditional and digital platforms. That said, the intercollegiate athletics marketplace doesn’t remain static and now is a good time to bring in a new leader who will help us develop our go-forward strategy.”
Under Scott, the Pac-10 became the Pac-12 by adding Colorado and Utah in 2011 and created a football championship game. The additions helped the conference secure a 12-year $3 billion media rights deal with Fox and ESPN that set the standard in the college sports market at the time.
That move came after Scott made a bold attempt to raid the Big 12, at first trying to woo Texas and five other schools to create a 16-team conference and then again circling back on Texas and Oklahoma.
Scott’s grandest plans never came to fruition. The additions did help the conference secure a 12-year, $3 billion media rights deal with Fox and ESPN. The contract set the standard in the college sports market in 2011 and brought Pac-12 football unprecedented national TV exposure. The Pac-12 also agreed to equal revenue sharing for the first time under the new deal.
Those contract are up in 2024 and negotiating the next media rights deals will be a top priority of the next Pac-12 commissioner.
Scott's other daring move has not panned out as well. The Pac-12 Network, launched in 2012, followed the lead of Big Ten Network but never could replicate it as a money-maker for its members.
The Pac-12 chose not to partner with an existing cable network the way the Big Ten did with Fox and the Southeastern Conference later did with ESPN.
Scott hoped that by the conference having full ownership of the network, it would eventually position the schools to cash in big on a changing media landscape, less dependent on traditional TV networks.
That never panned out. While Pac-12 revenues have steadily risen in recent years — the conference distributed more than $32 million per school after the 2018-19 academic year — its members still lag behind the Big Ten ($55 million per school) and SEC ($45 million per school).
Scott has also been criticized for moving the Pac-12 offices out of Walnut Creek, California, to San Francisco, which drove up operating costs. He is currently the highest paid conference commissioner at $5.4 million for 2019-20, according to USA Today.
At the time, though, the move to San Francisco fell in line with the Pac-12 presidents’ charge to Scott: Modernize a conference that had fallen way behind its peers in major college sports.
The Pac-12's highest profile sports, football and men's basketball, have failed to produce national champions during Scott's tenure, and some of his long-term plans failed to satisfy the short-term needs of administrators within the conference.
The conference took off in the first few years of Scott's tenure and he was lauded as a visionary. The road got bumpy after that for Scott, and his time in the Pac-12 will come to end after the most difficult year of college sports trying to play through the pandemic.
“This year was tougher than any that we've had,” Scott said. “But it also made you step back and reflect on what's most important in your life.”
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Ralph D. Russo, The Associated Press