Beginning in July 2021, the Pac-12 conference will be under new leadership.
In a meeting featuring the conference's governing executive committee, its presidents and Commissioner Larry Scott, the Pac-12 announced on Wednesday that both sides have agreed to mutually part ways after what can best be described as an up-and-down tenure during Scott's 11-year reign.
“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,” said University of Oregon President Michael Schill, chair of the Pac-12 executive committee. “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.”
With Scott out and the Pac-12 in desperate need of a new TV contract, finding the correct person to oversee and run the conference is of high priority, especially considering the new commissioner will "be in place to negotiate and maximize the Conference’s next important long-term media rights agreement."
Make no mistake, the Pac-12 commissioner job is one that will be highly sought after, but it does come with its issues. Whoever is tasked with fixing those issues will be revered solely because he isn't Larry Scott, but they must make the conference respected nationally again.
By and large, the Pac-12 is a great conference in multiple ways; incredible strong academically; phenomenal big-time cities with large airports; weather that's largely enticing; a commitment to athletic leadership diversity; excellence when it comes to Olympic sports; and a fanbase that rarely causes compliance issues with a passion that borderlines obsession but not enough to overturn coaching decisions.
However, the issues regarding national perception and success are legitimate. The conference hasn't won a football national title in 16 years (USC), and its been 24 years (Arizona) since a mens basketball national championship.
Ever since the College Football Playoff debuted in 2014, only Oregon has played for a national title (losing in 2015) while Washington is the lone other conference representative to make the playoff. It's been 14 seasons since a Pac-12 team played for a men's national championship, with UCLA losing in 2006.
Without a doubt the Pac-12 is known as the "Conference of Champions," and for good reason.
Stanford, UCLA and USC, the top three colleges with the most national championships, have a combined 351 Division I national titles — which is eight less than the next eight schools combined, one of which is Cal. Altogether, the Pac-12 has five schools ranked in the top-14 of most Division I national championships (Stanford, UCLA, USC, Cal and Oregon).
Whoever is hired must be ready to bring the conference back into that national spotlight. Here are six names who expect to be strongly considered for the position...
Bernard Muir, Stanford athletic director. Muir, 52, has led the nation’s most dominant all-around athletic department since 2012. He is respected within the league and beloved on his own campus. A critical thinker with a good grasp of the big picture, Muir also connects well with individuals. Steeped in knowledge of both the pluses and minuses of the conference, Muir represents the best in-house choice, so to speak.
Greg Byrne, Alabama athletic director. Byrne, 49, has deep experience in the league—he was the A.D. at Arizona from 2010 to '17, worked at Oregon and Oregon State, and graduated from Arizona State. Perhaps more tangibly important, he knows how a massive and highly motivated football entity operates. Byrne locked up Nick Saban with a big contract extension in 2018 and ponied up to keep Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator last year. He also appears to have made a shrewd basketball hire in Nate Oats, whose second team at Alabama currently leads the SEC.
Gene Smith, Ohio State athletic director. At 61, Smith probably has one move left in him if he wants to make it. One of the most respected and influential athletic directors in the country, Smith oversees what was the largest athletic budget in the country in 2019. Something of a velvet hammer, Smith is practiced at the art of collegiate diplomacy but also adept at getting his way. Much like Byrne, he would arrive with plenty of personal experience about what it takes to win in football at the highest level. Smith also has some ties to the conference, having been the A.D. at Arizona State from 2000 to '05.
Gloria Nevarez, West Coast Conference commissioner. Nevarez comes with commissioner experience, having led the WCC for nearly three years as the first Latinx commissioner at the Division I level. She also has Pac-12 experience as the senior associate commissioner from 2010 to '18. And there is experience at a football power on the resume, having worked under respected A.D. Joe Castiglione at Oklahoma from 2007 to '10. She’s a Bay Area native who spent time at Cal in the compliance office. Nevarez was in the mix for the ACC commissioner job that went to Northwestern A.D. Jim Phillips.
Mark Silverman, Fox Sports. He’s probably not interested after ascending to the top of the Fox Sports programming and production ladder in 2018. But before that move, Silverman was instrumental in making the Big Ten Network a wildly successful venture—and the Pac-12 could use all the media savvy it can get. If the league wants someone whose expertise would help close the revenue gap on the other Power 5 conferences, Silverman is that guy. He graduated from UCLA and lives in Los Angeles, so he knows the terrain and is in the neighborhood.
Oliver Luck, former college administrator. Luck got out of the college space to run the ill-fated XFL, but he's highly respected and welcome back whenever he's ready. He's the former No. 2 executive at the NCAA, and before that the athletic director at his alma mater, West Virginia. His oldest three children all attended Stanford, and son Andrew played quarterback there before becoming the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Luck has a combination of college knowledge and business acumen that would be valuable to the Pac-12.
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