Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott may have been the most interesting man at SportsBusiness Journal’s Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum on Wednesday, with plenty of thoughts to share on having a team in the College Football Playoff, the possibility of the conference expanding, and a future in which all Pac-12 events are only broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.
Scott did quite a bit of gazing into his crystal ball and sharing his visions with reporters. Perhaps the most intriguing was his contention that the conference could eventually broadcast all of its athletic events exclusively on the Pac-12 Network.
Larry Scott: "I can see a day when all PAC12 sports exist only on our network and are licensed to digital content providers" #SBJIAF
— Jason Belzer (@JasonBelzer) December 7, 2016
Would the Pac-12 Network suddenly become more appealing to TV partners and cable providers if that was the only way to see the conference’s sporting events. Scott hasn’t been happy with the network’s distribution, notably the continuing five-year stalemate with DirecTV and failing to reach an agreement with Charter Communications. But late West Coast starts hurt viewership on the East Coast, and networks asking the Pac-12 to play football games on Friday night to compensate hasn’t helped.
Threatening to take the Pac-12’s ball away from the networks and go home doesn’t seem like the right move, but maybe Scott and the conference’s member schools think a hardline stance like this might be the way to go. There is plenty of time to mull over that strategy. The Pac-12’s TV deal with ESPN and Fox expires in 2024. However, the Big 12’s TV deal with ESPN and Fox runs out at nearly the same time (2025, to be exact), so the Pac-12 likely wants to get a head start on posturing for a new agreement ahead of the competition.
Expiration of TV deals might also spur something else that Scott envisions: Further conference expansion and realignment. Could the Pac-12 become the Pac-16, which was being discussed six years ago when what became the Power 5 conferences were looking to expand and several schools were scrambling to join up with larger leagues? Scott said it’s possible that we could eventually see four power conferences made up of 16 schools apiece in college athletics. That could certainly make the Pac-12 more attractive
“I think it’s likely you’ll see more expansion, more consolidation (of conferences) over time. Don’t know when that is”—Pac-12’s Larry Scott
— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) December 7, 2016
Was Scott worried that Washington might not be among the four teams in the College Football Playoff. Though the Huskies were an entirely suitable choice after winning the Pac-12 conference championship game and finishing with a regular season record of 12-1, there was plenty of support for Penn State or even Michigan to be the team that joined Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson in the Playoff.
Naturally, Scott stuck up for his conference. But the commissioner also took a swipe at ESPN, indicating that he thought the debate over that fourth team in the Playoff was largely a media creation. More specifically, it was ESPN trying to ramp up drama for its selection show.
Pac-12’s Larry Scott: “Despite ESPN’s attempt to create drama, we felt confident Washington would get in (at No. 4)"
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 7, 2016
Well, ESPN did have a TV show to consider. But debate over whether Penn State or Michigan deserved to be among the four College Football Playoff teams instead of Washington wasn’t an argument taking place solely on ESPN. Yes, the network could drive debate by hosting the selection show and making the CFP selection a prominent topic of conversations on its studio and debate shows. But plenty of arguments for or against Washington were taking place, whether on news and sports websites, sports talk radio shows and podcasts.
However, Scott is clearly a bit sore about ESPN’s reporters, hosts and analysts not sticking up more for Washington and doing all it can to stoke debate. Even though that’s exactly what the network is in the business of doing.