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Sports >  WSU football

Pac-12 commissioner search: No football chops? Don’t bother applying

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 17, 2021

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Time for some straight talk about the talk.

First, the talk:

In the four weeks since the Pac-12 announced Larry Scott’s contract would not be renewed, the university presidents have spoken in lofty terms about their preferences for the next commissioner.

It all sounds good, even inspiring. Why wouldn’t the Pac-12 want a leader who reflects the diversity of its campuses and athletes, who revels in its academic bona fides, who values its stellar Olympic sports, who shares its commitment to the student-athlete experience and swears by its devotion to the core mission of higher education?

Now, the straight talk:

Football, football, football.

If the presidents don’t hire a commissioner who understands the complexities of the sport – where it is and, more important, where it’s headed – they are making a gargantuan mistake that could have lasting, devastating consequences for the conference.

Because if Pac-12 football continues on its current trajectory, it will fade into purgatory – something more than the Group of Five but less than the Power Five, an island unto itself in a time zone unto itself.

The resulting deterioration in reputation, revenue and resources will impact not only every athletic department but every campus.

If that view seems overly bleak, then you haven’t paid enough attention to a future that is about to become the present, to the bifurcation that will come with changes to the transfer rules … with federal legislation on name, image and likeness … with upcoming media rights negotiations … with adjustments to the size and scope of the College Football Playoff … and with the Alston case that’s in front of the Supreme Court and could lay waste to the NCAA’s amateur model.

College football is entering the most chaotic – and quite possibly the most transformative – period of time in its history.

At stake: Nothing less than the future economic and competitive structures of the sport.

Now, the Pac-12 presidents haven’t asked the Hotline for advice. If they did, our response would be fairly simple:

If a candidate cannot communicate a strategic vision to ensure the Pac-12’s relevance a decade from now, then he/she has no business being commissioner.

Everything else matters, and we aren’t suggesting otherwise. But nothing matters as much as football, because of where the Pac-12 is and where the sport’s headed.

Here’s what else the Hotline would ask a candidate:

  • What’s your plan for driving College Football Playoff expansion?
  • What’s your plan for helping Pac-12 campuses maximize their NIL opportunities?
  • What’s your plan for improving media coverage?
  • What’s your plan for the media rights negotiations?
  • What’s your plan for improving officiating and scheduling?
  • What’s your plan for retaining coaches and recruits?

Hire a commissioner who lacks a plan for the future, and there won’t be a future – at least, not the version the conference wants and the athletes deserve.

At least one president in the conference appears to understand.

During an interview with KJR radio in Seattle last month, Washington State’s Kirk Schulz offered a few words that Pac-12 fans should find heartening:

“One of the things we’re concerned about is our competitiveness nationally in football … We’re a Power Five league, and we need to play like that. And we need to have facilities like that and coaches and student-athletes like that.

“It’s going to be really important that we have a relevant football brand that’s the kind of thing fans are excited about on the West Coast but also across the nation.

“We need a person to come in and say, ‘If we’re going to elevate our brand, here are some things we need to think about doing as a conference.’ ”

The question is whether Schulz, who serves on the College Football Playoff Board of Managers, is speaking for himself or echoing the collective.

We haven’t heard from most of the presidents since the search began – and probably won’t.

The conference wants a consolidated, unified front, and thus far only members of the executive committee have addressed the search publicly: Schulz, Washington’s Ana Mari Cauce and Oregon’s Michael Schill (the chair).

If the majority of presidents believe as Schulz does, the Pac-12 has a chance to get this right.

The presidents are right to set the bar high and to expect intense interest in the position. But the perfect candidate – as we imagine their version of perfection – does not exist.

They can compromise on everything else, but not football.

If they don’t hire a commissioner who understands the sport from 40,000 feet and from two inches, they’re jeopardizing the future for every school, every team and every athlete.

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