LOS ANGELES -- Larry Scott spent most of his first day on the new job trying to figure out how the phone worked. He spent most of his first month immersed in a crash course on the inner workings of college sports.
The new Pac-10 commissioner has yet to visit every campus and last attended a college football game more than a dozen years ago, but he's already talking about something called the "West Coast advantage." He can't articulate what it is, exactly -- but it sounds a lot better than East Coast bias.
Scott, who replaced the retiring Tom Hansen on July 1, brings an impressive resume. The Harvard grad spent more than 20 years as a player and executive in professional tennis. Most recently, he served as chairman and CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, where he built his reputation on TV and marketing agreements.
Those strengths are welcome additions in the Pac-10, where, like in other conferences, there's a sense the SEC is pulling away from its rivals, at least in terms of revenue and exposure. What Scott doesn't bring to the job, however, is much knowledge about the business of college sports. Scott says he caught the "big bug" of Florida football while living in St. Petersburg, Fla., the last six years, but the last college football game he attended was Harvard-Yale. "It's a little different from the USC-UCLA rivalry," Scott said, "but it's a big deal in the Northeast."
In the months since being named Hansen's successor, Scott has tagged along with the longtime commissioner to BCS and conference meetings. He's paid courtesy calls to athletic directors like Florida's Jeremy Foley and Texas' DeLoss Dodds. And since taking office July 1, he's begun a whirlwind listening tour at Pac-10 campuses. "I'd be the first one to raise my hand and say there are various issues I've got a learning curve on," Scott said. "I'll take my time to understand those and work my way through it."
Scott says he's already learned enough to know there's "a disconnect" between national perception of the Pac-10's strength, most notably in football, and the reality. "I'm a bit overwhelmed," Scott said, "by the sense that the Pac-10 has untapped potential."
Scott met with a small group of national writers for almost 90 minutes Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles to discuss that issue and more. An abridged version of the session appears here.
Q: You were at the BCS meetings in April. Since then, there have been two Congressional hearings. When you first got the job you said something about being open to certain things, when I think the general consensus is the Pac-10 and the Big Ten and most of the other conferences are happy with the BCS. Can you define the conference's position on that?
Scott: I made the comment that someone like myself gets brought into a position like this to take a fresh look at things. Having said that, the way the stories ran, I thought, was way overblown and sort of reading things into what I said that I certainly didn't intend. ... The Pac-10's position is crystal clear. ... For a lot of reasons, there's a deep and unwavering support for the BCS. And by the way, there's a (BCS television) contract that's going to be fully honored through 2014. So there's no ambiguity about the Pac-10's position right now.
Q: What's the likelihood of a Pac-10 network? There was a story recently about the possibility of the Pac-10 and the ACC or the Big 12 [collaborating in a television network]. Is that reality or just somebody's concept?
Scott: The Big Ten has certainly opened everyone's eyes to how a conference can be successful with its own network. And there's certainly an awful lot of interest in the idea of a network, judging by the way my phone is ringing and people are reaching out. ... I think it's a very real possibility down the road, but to me a network is not an end unto itself.
The goal is to balance desire for revenue, desire for exposure, desire for a marketing platform, not just for football and basketball. ... There are many different ways to achieve that end. The Big Ten went one way, the SEC went another direction. And there may be other alternatives as well, including conferences doing things in more of a collaborative way.
It's early days for us. These are not ripe discussions. There will always be discussions -- it's so important -- but it will not really be ripe for another couple of years because we have existing (TV) agreements and we've got great partnerships in place (ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports Net through 2011-12).
Q: Is there a sense the Pac-10 could be falling behind competitively? When you look at what the SEC has done in the last year, $3 billion contracts with CBS and ESPN, how do you react and respond?
Scott: Staggering, in a positive way. What it said to me was college sports has been undervalued and the Pac-10 is undervalued. And the trends are going in the right direction. To me, it screamed a great opportunity for the Pac-10. If we can put our best foot forward, promote ourselves as best as possible, create as much value as possible, the values in college sports are going up, and we'll be the beneficiaries of that. So I'm thrilled that the SEC has done what it's done, and the Big Ten. I think they've raised the bar for everyone and demonstrated that value is being unlocked.
Q: Is there a sense that rather than waiting until the next TV cycle, you need to get moving now?
Scott: I feel no sense of urgency in that regard. Whatever's going to happen in the next television agreement is going to be a 15-, 20-, 25-year deal, I'm going to predict. It's going to be a very long-term deal that's going to define the conference well into the future.
And what's most important from my perspective is that careful thought be given. I need time to get established, to study our existing partnerships first, to get to know them and to really understand the opportunities and to work on any positioning for the Pac-10. I'm not sure right now we'd get our maximum value right now, if we were in the market right now. So I'm actually very happy at this time to sort of get my bearings, to really learn the marketplace and to take the time and do it right, whether it's with our existing partners or new partners.
Q: You had a lot of arbitrary power with the WTA. It will be much less now. Won't you have to work with 10 institutions before you can make a move?
Scott: I guess it all depends upon your perspective. I had about 200 independent contractor tennis players that I worked for. It sometimes felt like herding cats. And then 55 individual tournament promoters around the world, tennis federations -- people often refer to tennis as alphabet soup, so it would be hard to stagger me with complexity of a political environment.
Kidding aside ... I'm used to being a servant leader and recognize I work for in this case 10 institutions, 10 presidents with broad objectives. I think the leadership challenge is trying to develop a vision that's consistent with the wishes of the group that takes it forward. I've been very impressed with the discussions I've had with the presidents. There is a common purpose and vision.
Q: Tom (Hansen) in the last few months was working on the Pac-10's bowl contracts. What was your role in that and where do they stand?
Scott: I had no role in it leading up to me starting (the job). Tom was very good to invite me into various meetings to listen and get my bearings and get orientated on some of the issues. Those discussions are very far along and I think over the coming months arrangements are going to be finalized.
Q: It's going to be mostly the same bowl lineup?
Scott: I can't really predict yet because it seems like there will be some sort of shuffling that perhaps goes on in the next month or two. But I think we've got a very solid bowl lineup, obviously led by the Rose Bowl, which is your anchor bowl. But I think for the most part, I'd expect it to be pretty similar to what we've had.
Q: How about with the Alamo Bowl? Is there still an ongoing discussion?
Scott: They've expressed interest but I think it would be too early to predict whether they'll be part of our lineup or not.
Q: In the big picture, do you see the Pac-10 always being the Pac-10? What about expansion?
Scott: It is not a topic that has come up in any serious way -- certainly not since July 1st. I do know that the conference has looked at it from time to time. Not seriously very recently. From the conversations I've had with the leadership of the conference, I know it's a complex issue.
First and foremost, the presidents look at it from an academic perspective. ... There's a certain prestige and status about the conference that's of utmost importance to our presidents and chancellors. Then, from a sporting perspective, a commercial perspective, there's all sorts of considerations, TV and all of that. I don't imagine this is something I will lead us to discuss before our next rounds of television discussions. I think that's the earliest I could imagine the topic being ripe for discussion.
Q: Do you have a feeling, or is there some sort of understanding about how much longer the USC investigations will last? Months? Years? Is there a role for the conference to play in this?
Scott: There is an ongoing investigation both at the conference level as well as the NCAA level. Beyond that I can't comment. The conference policy is not to comment on an ongoing investigation. I don't want to predict how long it might or might not last, but it is ongoing.
Q: How would you characterize your previous experience with college football and basketball?
Scott: Just a fan.
Q: Season ticketholder?
Scott: No, never a season ticketholder. I graduated from Harvard University, where sports was a different focus, and commercially a different league. But I certainly caught a big bug and got caught up in all the passion in the last six years living in St. Petersburg, Fla., which is very much Gator territory [and where college football] is so very much a part of the whole culture. ... The last six years gave me an appreciation for the tribal nature of college sports.
I see that as a great thing to tap into. I come from a sport where you have greater marketing challenges. I mean, people are fans and they're interested [in women's tennis], but the passion is not quite as deep. So one thing I'm really excited about is bringing the skill set and the track record I've got in marketing a sport like tennis into an environment where it is so deep and it is so passionate and I see opportunities to tap into.
Q: Where do you think the Pac-10 stands in college football?
Scott: The one thing that surprised me, I guess, is I had this perception from what I heard and read before I took the job that the Pac-10 was not seen amongst the No. 1 or 2 football conferences. I guess as I've gotten here and seen some of the stats I've been surprised in a positive way. The perception seems to be off with the reality, from what I can tell.
What I mean by that is since 2000, the better part of this decade, our conference has a winning record against every single BCS conference. And we're tied with the SEC for the best bowl record. So in terms of interconference play, where we stack up against each other, no one's got a better record than the Pac-10. That's certainly different than the perception I've had when I've been reading the media and listening to people talk.
The other thing that's surprised me is ... just how tough a (nonconference) schedule the Pac-10's got. I see a lot of dialogue about some of the 'laydown' teams the other guys have. ... That's the disconnect for me. The Pac-10 doesn't appear to be getting the credit it deserves for its schedule on one hand, and its track record and pedigree on the other. These are things that, as a newcomer, aren't being reflected in the national debate.
That's part of what I'm going to focus on and try to dissect and understand, because there's a disconnect. The Pac-10 is a hell of a lot stronger [than the perception].