When conference expansion-palooza redrew the maps on college sports, the Pac-12 was considered one of the conferences in a better position than before. Much of that credit went to commissioner Larry Scott, who had big ideas for his West Coast collective on how they could stake their claim at the top of the P5 heap.

The Pac-12 Network was supposed to be a huge part of that plan (along with games in Australia for some reason) but for a multitude of reasons it hasn’t quite panned out as hoped. A big part of that has to be the five-year stalemate between the network and DirecTV. That plus a few other snafus (no Verizon FiOS either) leaves the network with a reach of just 12-14 million homes out of the potential 113.4 million TV homes across the United States.

But hey, at least Pac-12 fans in Australia are loving life.

The conference’s big mistake appears to have been trying to go it alone instead of partnering with a big player like ESPN or Fox Sports. Without that leverage, the Pac-12 will continue to lag behind the Big Ten and SEC in terms of reach and revenue. Plus, a desire to leverage regional interest among member fanbases instead of trying to cast wider nets only seems to confuse the audience that they do have.

All of which brings us back to Scott, who spoke at SportsBusiness Journal’s Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum on Wednesday. The commish talked at length about the future of the conference and the network, though there were a few tidbits that stood out from the rest.

First, Scott envisioned a magical future when the Pac-12 Network was so popular and audiences had such easy access that the conference wouldn’t even need to look elsewhere for content.

However, he also flipped the script and offered up a bleaker, dystopian view of the network’s demise.

Scott also not-so-subtly hinted that, eventually, the conference will probably expand once again. Though he did add the caveat that it doesn’t seem like it will happen too soon.

He also tried to make it clear that, no matter what, the Pac-12 and the Pac-12 Network are doing great!

To be fair, all of this is soundbites collected together and we may just be drawing conclusions based on the few quotes that were shared (we’ll take a look at the full transcript if it ever becomes available), but it’s possible that Scott is trying to cover all of his bases because everything they’ve tried so far hasn’t quite worked out the way they wanted.

The Pac-12 remains a regional conference, showcased by the way hype for Michigan and Penn State to get into the College Football Playoff seemed to dwarf Washington, who doesn’t have the national footprint to match. That fact wasn’t lost on Scott, by the way. And the Pac-12 Network remains a relatively niche cable channel, especially when compared to some of their counterparts. So after all of the talk and international appeal and great member school accolades, the Pac-12 is right back where it started, so to speak. Scott certainly has to be feeling that.

Credit to Scott for at least acknowledging that the future may not actually be what he intended it to be. The idea that the Pac-12 Network could shutter sometime around 2024 and we see conference broadcast rights sold high to the ESPNs and Fox Sports of the world isn’t one you’d expect to hear from a commissioner. Can you imagine Jim Delany or John Swofford ever saying anything like that? They’ll stick to the PR script, thank you.

The reality remains. The Pac-12 Network isn’t going to get much more attractive and it’s unclear what they can do, other than cave to DirecTV’s demands. Plus, as cord cutters and OTT services grow, the opportunities on cable are going to recede anyway. And then what?

We’ve got a long way to go between now and 2024 but Larry Scott seems to have just opened the door to the possibility that the Pac-12 Network just isn’t going to work. It’s refreshing (if that is indeed what he’s doing) but it probably doesn’t make the 12 member schools or their fanbases feel any better about it.

About Sean Keeley

A graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Keeley is the creator of the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and author of 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse related things for SB Nation, Curbed, Neighborhoods.com, and many other outlets. He currently lives in Chicago.

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