Larry Scott is proud of plenty about his 11-year tenure as commissioner of the Pac-12.
He expanded the conference, created equal revenue-sharing, began a football championship game, supervised the kick off of the Pac-12 Network and oversaw the modernizing of athlete healthcare and transfer rules.
But, on the day he announced his impending resignation (he’ll stay on through June), Scott reveals that, yes, he does have regrets. He should not have struck such a long-term television deal in 2011 that, years later, has his teams operating under an antiquated contract that generates far fewer dollars than its competitors like the Big Ten and SEC.
“There are a lot of things I could have done better along the way,” Scott says in an interview Wednesday night with Sports Illustrated. “If there’s one thing I could wave a magic wand over, it’s that.”
And then there’s the attempt at conference expansion, when the Pac-12 aggressively sought to add Oklahoma and Texas to create a 16-team super conference that could have changed college football’s landscape forever. He doesn’t regret pursuing such an audacious plan, but he catches himself wondering what could have been.
“I believe it would have worked out exceedingly well and it was very close to happening,” Scott recalls. “When I was hired, it was with a goal of ‘Let’s take some risks and swings! Let’s be more aggressive and modernize the conference!’
“Some things worked out exceedingly well and some things not as well and that comes with being prepared and taking some chances and being bold.”
Five months from now, he’ll leave the league with no real post-Pac 12 plans. The decision was made in consultation with the conference’s executive board, which wanted to “head in a new direction,” Scott says. He agreed, tendering his resignation with plans to spend his immediate time off this summer with family.
Read more in our Q&A with the outgoing commissioner.
Sports Illustrated: How did this go down?
Larry Scott: Had a sitdown with my board members, the executive committee, the three presidents, we had a scheduled sitdown to start talking about the future, which is our normal process. The idea was to do it 18 months out (of the contract expiring). If we’re not going to continue for whatever reason, everybody has a year to figure it out.
What became clear from the first conversation is the conference leadership wants to head in a new direction. I was able to express to the group that it’s a good time in my life to make a change having done it… 20 years in pro sports and 10 here. And seeing the different direction college sports is going in and where our league is heading at the moment… I thought a fresh start for them would be good.
I really enjoy the transformation and the growing and the re-imagining, which was the hallmark of my first five or six years here. That was what was needed at the time. That’s what I enjoyed most and had a real passion for. I’m ready for the next situation and opportunity where that would play to my skills, passion and interests to transform and grow. That’s not really where we’re at at the moment. That became clear in the first conversation we had.
Rather than go 18 months, if that’s where we’re at, there’s no reason to wait. I’m eager. Once you make that decision in your mind, you’re ready to move on. They asked me if I’d stay to the end of this year and I said yes, to give them the chance… they’ve got to now regroup and try to find my successor.
SI: What’s next for you?
LS: I don’t have a specific thing I’m moving to. I’ll stay focused on this. There are plenty of challenges we’ve been dealing with over the last year and I want to make sure I can provide steady leadership through choppy waters over the next few months and then I’m going to take a step back with my wife.
Some of this was a very personal decision as well. It comes at a time in my life where my wife and I’s youngest child is going off to college. We’ll be empty nesters. It’s an exciting time in my life as well. I’m going to take some time and really think about what I want to do next. A lot of opportunity out in the world right now.
SI: Until you leave the job, what are the big goals for you?
LS: COVID first and then it’s a very disruptive time for our league and college athletics. It’s very intense. Just managing through our sports seasons. Secondly, we’re trying to chart a course around very important long-term strategic issues—NIL, Alston (Supreme Court case), revising a compact with our student athletes. That’s the next few months for sure. I’d say those are the two biggest issues, helping get us through the current situation and some of the major strategic issues facing college sports.
SI: When you look back on your tenure, what do you believe are your greatest accomplishments?
LS: Well, I guess I’d prefer other people to comment on it. My mission when I was hired was to transform and modernize the league. There are a lot of different ways in which we did that, starting with expanding the conference, moving to equal revenue sharing, starting the football championship game, bringing our basketball tournament to Las Vegas, starting the Pac-12 Network and setting us up for great success when the conference goes to market (for a new TV deal). First league to do stuff in China and in Asia.
I’d say that on the one hand, but on the other hand, our universities really deeply believe in the mission of supporting student athletes. I don’t think there’s a league that’s done more in supporting student athletes, in terms of expanding healthcare coverage, easing internal transfer rules, the research initiatives we started around mental health, concussions and other issues.
I think we’ve done more to engage and enhance support for student athletes than any other conference. I was a student athlete myself. That was the core mission.
SI: What about regrets?
LS: Over an 11-year period, with all the issues you deal with, there are a lot of things I could have done better along the way.
What we did with our television agreements was with a very much long-term view in mind—which I think will pay off handsomely for the league in 2023—but I realize there are tremendous short-term pressures for our schools. If there is one thing, I would have done shorter media agreements so that we would have been able to leapfrog sooner.
If there’s one thing I could wave a magic wand over, it’s that. There’s been a lot of turnover. There’s been a lot of short-term pressures on our schools.
SI: People criticize the length of the TV deal quite a bit. Does that eat at you?
LS: No, not really, because there was complete alignment with the presidents and chancellors and ADs who were involved then. Everyone was aligned in what we were doing. It’s hard to go back with the benefit of hindsight when everyone is aligned in what you’re doing.
SI: During the wave of conference expansion, the Pac-12 was aggressive, even pursuing Texas and Oklahoma for a 16-team super conference. What if that would have happened? Do you think about that?
I believe it would have worked out exceedingly well and it was very close to happening. I think that whole exercise opened people’s minds to what the Pac-12 could be. At that stage it was the Pac-10. Kind of surprised people by the boldness of our ambition in taking a big swing. It set an intention. When I was hired, it was with a goal of ‘Let’s take some risks and swings! Let’s be more aggressive and modernize the conference!’
Some things worked out exceedingly well and some things not as well and that comes with being prepared and taking some chances and being bold. That whole expansion process opened peoples’ minds. And we’ve been absolutely delighted with Colorado and Utah. It’s been a great fit. But it’s hard to know how the 16 would have worked. It wasn’t meant to be.
SI: Should we expand the playoff?
LS: I think I’ve been public in saying this year we should have played eight. I thought it was a no-risk move. This was a year that there was no non-conference play. If ever there was a year, it would have been this year. The support wasn’t there. I think that suggests it’s probably going to be a while. If people weren’t prepared to do it this year, when it would have been easier to do, it’s obviously not easy to do in that room.