The first thing you should know about new Pacific-10 Conference commissioner Larry Scott is probably the most important thing to know about Larry Scott.
He is about as West Coast as subway-station saxophone players, street-corner chestnut vendors and horse-drawn carriages.
After a nine-month search to replace the retiring Tom Hansen produced candidates with such familiar profiles as recent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (a former Stanford professor) and longtime baseball executive Sandy Alderson (architect of the 1999 world champion Oakland A’s), the league on Tuesday reached all the way across the country for a trailblazer capable of rescuing it from the wilderness.
Scott was born in New York City and educated at Harvard. Since his appointment six years ago as chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, he has made his home in Florida. Before taking over the WTA, Scott’s administrative posts with the men’s tennis tour found him living in Sydney, Australia, then Monte Carlo, then London.
And while he has been to California enough to know that it isn’t cold and damp, it’s unlikely Scott can recite the names of the starting quarterbacks who took their Pac-10 teams to the Rose Bowl during the 1970s, and he’s almost certainly got no clue where to park his rental car for a night game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
On the other hand – borrowing here from his WTA biography – Scott was an All-America tennis player in college who briefly competed on the men’s tour. (His highest ranking was 210.)
He majored in European history, speaks fluent French, and includes among his eclectic hobbies reading, skiing, and squash. (The game, I mean, although I’m sure he likes the vegetable, too.)
Some might find it troubling, the idea of hiring a French-speaking, squash-playing, literature-reading European history buff from the East Coast to oversee a conference that helped give Norm Van Brocklin his scowl and Gary Payton his swagger.
I find it refreshing. Scott’s appointment might be the first progressive move this band of sleepy-headed brothers has made in the three decades since it expanded into Arizona.
Despite its proximity to four major media markets – Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Phoenix and Seattle – Pac-10 revenues rank behind the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Big 12.
The Pac-10’s televised-football package, shared with ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports Net, is inadequate. The Pac-10’s basketball package, completely tethered to Fox Sports and its peculiar brand of provincialism, is insulting.
The Pac-10’s secondary bowl lineup seems to work like this: You give us your sixth-place team, we’ll match it up our with our third-place team – and, hey, thanks for making the effort to recognize us.
Worst of all, the conference responsible for so much innovation over the years on the football field has become – along with its life partner, the Big Ten – a symbol of the doddering, feeble, stodgy status-quo that’s preventing college football from reaching its easily achievable potential.
Hansen is a product of an era when bowl games were the ultimate, the last word. Then again, it was an era when a 10-10 tie between two perfect teams participating in a late November “Game of the Century” was the ultimate last word, too.
The Pac-10 had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the BCS. And with Hansen calling the shots, anything beyond the BCS – say one game, between the two highest-ranked teams, arranged to identify the closest thing to an undisputed national champion – was off the table for the conference, and thus off the table for everybody.
When Scott takes office in July, he’ll take it without a similar agenda.
“I would start with what the proposition is to generate the most revenue,” Scott told reporters on Tuesday, “and what’s best for the fans.”
A one-game playoff generates more revenue than a no-game playoff. A one-game playoff is better for the fans than a no-game playoff.
A three-game playoff among four New Year’s Day bowl winners – a college-football Final Four – makes even more sense, but let’s not push the envelope.
As for the Pac-10’s inability to assert itself nationally, Scott appears to have the kind of sports-marketing expertise necessary to nudge the league into the 21st century. He is largely responsible for a five-fold increase in WTA sponsorship revenues, a 250 percent increase in overall revenues, a 70 percent increase in prize money, and $710 million in stadium investments.
Scott played a non-revenue sport at an Ivy League school, and he’s obviously familiar with women’s sports – in that sense, he’s a commissioner for all seasons. But make no mistake: His first order of business is arranging better TV contracts for football and basketball, and better bowl-game affiliations.
“I’ve picked up on the sense,” he said Tuesday, “ that some people find the Pac-10 may not be boxing at their appropriate weight, so to speak.”
The Pac-10 not only doesn’t box at its appropriate weight, but it also has lost its appetite to throw a punch .
Welcome to the West Coast, Larry. And welcome to “The Conference of Champions.” Now roll up your sleeves, and get ready to represent a conference that boasts everything but somebody with the conviction to champion it.
John McGrath: 253-597-8742; ext. 6154