Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott
Thank you for being here for our inaugural Pac-12 Football Championship Game. We are very excited to be here in Eugene at Autzen Stadium and to have what I know will be a full house, a raucous, loud atmosphere that Autzen has become known for. That’s what we hoped for with this Football Championship Game, and deciding to play at the home of the team with the best overall Conference record, and looking forward to the country seeing an electric, collegiate atmosphere for a football championship game in the first year of the Pac-12.
Thanks to our friends at FOX. The game is going to be broadcast in East Coast primetime so a great national audience will see it this Friday night where we pretty much have an exclusive window when it comes to college football.
I think it’s a great platform for the Conference. I think this is a great model for the Football Championship game. In this case, the fans and the University of Oregon, the campus and the community won the right for this extra game, this championship game. I certainly want to thank the city of Eugene and the University of Oregon for their cooperation with this event. It’s a first-time endeavor with our team working very closely with the University. I think you’ll see the stadium looks fantastic. It’s dressed in a way that we think is fitting of a Conference championship event and should help to build the pageantry around what we hope to be a long tradition of doing the event this way.
Certainly there’s a lot at stake with tonight’s game - a Rose Bowl berth - which makes the Pac-12 Championship Game pretty special. We’ll crown the first-ever Pac-12 Champion coming out of tonight. It certainly has proven to be a very exciting season. It’s been a very good season for the Pac-12 from my perspective. We end the season with three teams in the top-10 and, with what looks like is going to be two BCS bowl teams for the second year in a row, barring strange circumstances over the weekend, and seven bowl-eligible teams, which would have been eight bowl eligible teams had USC been entitled to play. All in all, I think it’s been a strong season for the Conference. The Pac-12 and the SEC are the only two conferences to have three teams each in the top-10, so I think the Conference is clearly established as a perennial elite football conference.
It’s been another stellar year with a lot of top talent. The Conference is going to be well-represented in the Heisman ceremony, I’m sure. The quality of our teams has resulted in Pac-12 football being a strong ratings driver again. We just got the ratings results of ESPN and ABC’s top-six rating broadcasts this year. Pac-12 teams were in four out of those six games. Pac-12 teams are in the right time slot and on the right platform are driving massive national TV ratings. USC at Oregon, Oregon at Stanford, Stanford at USC and Oregon-LSU were four of the top six ratings winners this year. Next year with our new TV agreements kicking in, it’s going to be taken to a higher level with every football game broadcast on national TV. No more window of Pac-12 broadcasts starting next year. Every broadcast is going to be full national. This will only help keep propelling the perception of the Conference nationally which has been an important objective for me and a lot of our efforts have been focused on that.
In addition to the national exposure, obviously significant increased revenues for our school next year, which we hope will help our schools sooner than later to operate athletics on a balanced-budget basis. We want athletics to pay for itself. We think new agreements will allow that to happen. What you’ve already seen happening is the investment in facilities, coaching and student-athlete support and services. It’s an exciting time for the Conference. This is an inflection point in many respects with the Football Championship Game this year. This is the first step in future directions.
On USC being ineligible to play in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game:
Certainly had it not been for the postseason ban for USC, we would have had two top-10 teams in this game, so of course it’s disappointing when such a strong team is not allowed to participate. It’s not something we control. Obviously we and USC are abiding by other decisions by the NCAA. Therefore, UCLA is in a very good spot here. Of course people will be disappointed that the team that finishes first in its division can’t participate, but that’s the nature of it. It will still be a great showcase. We’re expecting a full house, electric atmosphere. There’s an awful lot on the line. UCLA has the potential to pull off one of the greatest upsets in Conference history.
On the neutral site model:
We spent a lot of time thinking about the different options and we had a lot of great proposals for neutral site options. In our footprint, we have a lot of great NFL venues that were very eager to have this event and we have even more coming online. After giving it a lot of careful thought, we thought this model of a home-hosted championship game was the best for us for a variety of reasons. We’re a Conference that’s very widespread, from Washington down to Arizona and east. What was most important from my perspective was to have a full house and an atmosphere of energy, to have a collegiate atmosphere. As we’re establishing this new tradition of a Conference championship game. We also felt that it would be a just reward and add more meaning to the regular season in that teams, up until this last weekend, were playing not just for winning their division, but they were playing for the right to host. It’s a way to reward the fans, campuses and communities.
On the possibility of moving the game to Saturday night:
That’s another topic that we spent a lot of time talking about with our broadcast partners. We felt this provided us with the maximum potential of a national audience. A lot of our thinking has been around national and East Coast access and availability to Pac-12 football. We wanted to be in a window that would give us national exposure. This is really an idea co-created by us and our TV partners. Why not be the first championship game to go? Why not go on a night when it’s exclusive to you and maximize your national audience? It kicks off championship game weekend
On the difficulty of having a game on a Friday night at 5 p.m.:
We realize it’s more difficult for the campus to host this game on a Friday night, but at the same time, we feel this is a unique and special event. In our experiences talking with the NFL, if it’s a special event, we can plan around it. It’s something that can be celebratory and people can make their plans around it. It’s something that actually adds to being a little more unique and differentiated.
On keeping the game on a Friday night:
As you probably know, FOX and ESPN will be alternating broadcasting this event. In our contract, it’s going to be for Friday. We realize we’re doing a lot of things for the first time and are putting a lot of thought and consideration into these decision. We’ll always take stock and see how we can improve. I’m not going to sit here and say we aren’t going to make changes to our model. On the eve of the kickoff of this game, I feel very good about the decision for the home-hosted model, as well as the Friday night. I feel we’ve gotten good feedback on this.
On reflecting about this week:
Certainly everything that we can control has played out. We’re very pleased with the organization and the way we’ve worked with the University of Oregon. The stadium is going to be full tonight. The broadcast is sold out. Everything we envisioned, from a planning and strategy standpoint, has worked out. Of course, I acknowledge the disappointment over the fact that we have a 6-6 team that fired its coach this week. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to script what happens on the field or what happens as a result of the NCAA Committee on Infractions. I think it emphasizes even more why a home-hosted model is even more important in situations that you can’t always envision.
On the influx of money into the Pac-12 and how it will benefit athletic departments:
There’s going to be a sea of change next year in terms of the perception of the Conference and the exposure of football and men’s basketball and across all sports with the launch of our TV networks, and every game available nationally. As a result, the bar is being raised and every one of our schools is taking a step back and planning a mid- to long-term future in a way they haven’t been able to previously. I think a lot of our schools have been saying, “Okay this is what we’ve got to work with. Let’s do the best we can.” I think the conversations that have been happening over the last six to nine months have been different. They’ve been, “Okay, we have new 12-year agreements that are going to bring in a lot of more exposure and revenue. For the first time in a long time, we can have some breathing room.” I am very confident that the leadership of our schools - presidents, chancellors and athletic directors - will go about in a very fiscally responsible way. How do we manage our athletic departments so they are self-sustaining? Most of our programs rely on resources from the university that could be spent in other ways. I’m looking forward to our schools getting to the point where they don’t have to rely on general university funds to run athletics.
On his plan for increasing the Pac-12’s international footprint:
That’s an important priority for our universities, being the leading institutions on the West Coast. Our schools look at themselves as the gateway to the Pacific Rim. I’ve got my first trip in this role to China planned for the middle of this month. I’ll be going over there for a week. We’ve got a host of meetings scheduled with government officials, event promoters, television broadcast partners and internet companies that might distribute Pac-12 content. We think we’re uniquely positioned as a Conference given the international makeup of our student body, the international brand recognition of our schools and our geographic location to make a big impact. That’s a long-term objective.
On bringing football to Asia:
Because the sport is not played over there, playing football in Asia could be an interesting promotional activity, but I don’t think on a regular basis it would make much sense, in my opinion.
On the status of Pac-12 agreements with cable networks for next year:
We know we’ve got deals in place that will get us into over 40 million homes across the country based on the deals with Time Warner, Comcast, FOX and Bright House. Fans and interested viewers anywhere in the country are going to be able to access whether we sign any additional distribution deals or not. With that being said, I think we are going to sign significant distribution details. Thankfully, we’ve turned a priority of attention to having those 40 million households already in place. We’ve turned our short-term attention to building our management team, our facilities and our production plans to get ready next August which is no small endeavor. It’s pretty impressive what we’re trying to do in launch seven television networks by next August. It’s an audacious challenge, but one we feel is very doable.