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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

July 24, 2014 at 6:23 PM

Media-days event a hit, and more from the Pac-12 commish . . .

Pac-12 football media days ground to a close Thursday, and in my mind, the new two-day format was a big success. I heard some reservations from colleagues about how it worked, but if the overriding goal of the league is increased visibility – duh – this seemed the way to go.

Essentially, there were two fundamental changes: The league expanded the event from one to two days. And instead of a dopey half-day spent with, in order, 12 coaches each toting a couple of players onto a stage and answering questions in a general session that seemed to grow increasingly inane in recent years, now the format calls for 40 minutes per school, in which the coach sits at a table surrounded by media and takes questions. Two players are at tables in the back of the room doing the same thing, with a smaller audience.

There was plenty of time, even too much in a few cases.  Have to think it’s of benefit to the league to have media getting to know some of the less-prominent programs, not just engulfing USC and UCLA.

Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, had his 34-minute address Wednesday, and also held court more informally later.

It’s been five years since we were introduced to Scott as the new commissioner. He’s essentially turned the conference upside down in that span, expanding to Utah and Colorado, overseeing an explosion in TV revenue, and implementing Pac-12 Networks.

The moving target of starting times in football and basketball has been a bugaboo, but realistically, they’re the tradeoff to TV riches, for better or worse.

When I asked him what he was happiest about in those five years, Scott said, “Probably the national recognition. Probably the ‘aha’ moment for me was last year, when most observers would have said the Pac-12 (in football) is right there with the SEC, top to bottom.”

That has been fueled by facilities improvements and TV money.

“It’s a little slower in basketball, but football’s been pretty dramatic,” Scott said. “I think over the next five years, we’ll be right there in the narrative about who’s got the best football conference.”

Other comments from Scott, who expressed optimism about the college-athletics model, while voicing confidence that the NCAA board of directors will approve a proposal Aug. 7 moving along legislation that would give the so-called “Big Five” conferences greater autonomy in governing themselves.

On the beauty of being total owner of the Pac-12 Networks, unlike those of the Big Ten and SEC: “I’m convinced people are going to look back and say, ‘How did the Pac-12 do that? How did the Pac-12 get full distribution and still own its own network and be master of its own destiny?’ Five years from now, we’ll check in and see how we’re doing. I feel pretty confident we’ll be the envy (of others).”

On possible reform for college basketball’s troublesome one-and-done phenomenon (Pac-12 presidents recently advocated consideration of freshmen ineligibility): “We’ve staked out ground on that. Hopefully, the NBA and NBA Players Association, both of which have or will have new leadership, will get it done. If not, we’ll take matters into our own hands.”

On whether the Pac-12’s nine-game conference schedules and relatively competitive non-league games could jeopardize the league as the era of football playoffs begin: “There’s just a different culture and philosophy out here. Our schools like big-time games. If that means in some years we miss the playoff as opposed to being in if we’d scheduled one or two more cupcakes, I think that’s a tradeoff we’re willing to make.”

On the move to tech-hip new Levi’s Stadium for the league title game: “It is about the experience, having access to your technology. I’ve used the analogy, having young kids. If you cut off connectivity going to a football stadium, you might as well cut off oxygen to my 13-year-old. If you can’t make a phone call or upload a photo or let them know on social media you’re at the game, why bother going to the game? I’m exaggerating a little but, but I think that’s the way the world’s going, in terms of attracting younger fans for the future.”

On the impasse with DirecTV as the Pac-12 Networks near their third year of operation: “There is no ‘latest,” unfortunately. It’s very unlikely that under the present ownership, they’ll carry us. I’m much more hopeful that when AT&T buys DirecTV, that we’ll have different kinds of discussions and outcomes.”

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