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Sports >  NCAA basketball

John Blanchette: ‘Parting ways’ with Larry Scott was the easy part for the Pac-12; the fix is trickier

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 21, 2021

Outgoing Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott leaves behind a legacy of failed dreams and tone-deaf leadership.  (Associated Press)
Outgoing Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott leaves behind a legacy of failed dreams and tone-deaf leadership. (Associated Press)
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

Can’t say the sun came out shining any brighter Thursday morning, but shades came in handy. The air going into the lungs felt fresher.

The noise – that incessant noise – ebbed.

And for the first time in years, the morning’s first exercise wasn’t a shudder or an exasperated roll of the eyes, thanks to the uplifting events of the day before that marked a sea change in hopes, dreams and expectations.

Inauguration? What inauguration?

This was about the Pac-12 and commissioner Larry Scott “parting ways” – the conference recalculating its route back to reality, and the commish winging back to Lar-a-Lago to count his buyout in full.

The Pac-12’s lagging revenues and flagging reputation in football, basketball, TV exposure and leadership finally caught up with Champagne Larry. He will serve out this fiscal year smuggling office supplies out in his briefcase – only joking, Lar – and the conference, for the final outlay of $5.3 million, will be rid of the face of its frustrations and ridicule.

But he’ll never get full credit for his biggest accomplishment.

It wasn’t adding Colorado and Utah to the conference. Even that didn’t really work out for Scott – a high-wire “Ocean’s Eleven” caper targeting Texas and Oklahoma that wound up instead with Hy sticking up the Short Stop in “Raising Arizona.”

No, Scott’s signature feat was more impressive. Fans rarely care about the necktie guys. Athletic directors matter every four years or so, when it’s time to fire the wrong coach and hire the right one. Conference commissioners hand out the end-of-season trophy and aren’t seen again for 12 months. But Larry Scott built himself into a brand, if disconnect and tone-deaf can be brands – and the rage online came in waves, and always in all caps.

His cable channels couldn’t get on DirecTV or generate the cash he’d promised. He couldn’t fix the officiating or keep a lieutenant from making it worse. Other conferences one-upped his TV deals and his football games kept pushing midnight in empty stadiums. He pocketed bonuses before axing payroll, and football and basketball became nationally irrelevant, in part because of the revenue disparity.

And his salary was outrageous, which wasn’t his fault. But as most of the educrats who ponied up for him moved on, their replacements asked questions – and the answer came Wednesday.

Firing Scott was the easy part – swallow the money.

The fix is trickier.

Washington State president Kirk Schulz sits on the Pac-12’s executive committee that will coordinate the hiring. He’s jotted down the ingredients on his shopping list, but he’s only one of a dozen cooks in the kitchen.

“I want somebody who will really get to know our campuses,” Schulz said. “You can’t get that by showing up for a couple of hours on a football Saturday.”

Yeah, you know who. Scott’s private jet virtually idled at the airport on his Saturday visits to Martin Stadium. His head never hit a pillow in a Pullman hotel.

“Second, I’m looking for somebody that understands and values our football brand,” Schulz continued. “Everything is tied to football. That’s not a philosophical statement – more of an economic one. But it’s important that our football champion be able to compete for a national championship, and we’re not in that conversation.”

Having been a dean in SEC country and a president in the Big 12, Schulz understands the West Coast audience is not as large and, uh, invested. OK, unglued. This will always be the Pac-12’s challenge in keeping up with the Sabans and Swinneys.

“But we need somebody to at least start asking the right questions,” he said.

Before the next round of TV negotiations begins, those questions should be about Pac-12 Networks, Scott’s bright idea turned money pit. Schulz travels enough to understand the grr-factor of checking into a hotel and not finding WSU’s game offered, but again it’s mostly a revenue problem.

“I think it’s going to require a new model,” he said, “with a partner.”

If Scott’s early moves got a promising spin, the execution ranged from missed opportunity to calamity. And then, he seemed to admit in a number of interviews in the past 24 hours, he lost interest.

Innovation was fun. Leading was a slog. So for once, it’s time to think inside the box.

“Colleges will go out and bring in somebody to be their president who’s never been in higher ed before,” Schulz said. “A dynamic leader. And there are some brilliant men and women out there. But after a couple of years, they’re not effective because they don’t understand the organization they’re leading. Commissioners can be the same way. I think we need somebody who’s been embedded in college sports and understands the campus environment.”

So no Condoleezza Rice, please. No comer from a nonfootball conference. No techie wizard or graduate of the Roger Goodell School of Indecision.

No Harvard man who’s never had a stadium hot dog.

There’s still possibility in the air. The Pac-12 just has to get the right candidate to inauguration.

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