And on the 104th day, we caved.
The Hotline resisted the urge to post odds on the next Pac-12 commissioner for more than three months. But today is the day, and it’s the day for two reasons:
1) We don’t have news to report.
TurnkeyZRG, the search firm assisting the conference, has lived up to its reputation for secrecy, while the presidents involved in the process are remaining remarkably tight-lipped.
As a result, there have been precious few leaks.
Which presidents are involved? The CEO Group’s executive committee has led the process from the start: Washington’s Ana Mari Cauce, Washington State’s Kirk Schulz and Oregon’s Michael Schill, who is halfway through his two-year term as chair.
According to sources, two other university leaders have been added, forming a five-person search committee: Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano and USC president Carol Folt.
The additions smartly bring geographical diversity to the central decision-making body and lend two important perspectives.
DiStefano served as chair of the CEO Group from 2018-20, when the conference explored options for a media rights deal, and is on the NCAA’s Board of Directors.
Folt’s presence makes sense because, well, the Los Angeles schools should have a voice in the process – USC, in particular.
The Big 12 would never hire a commissioner without Texas being heavily involved.
The Big Ten wouldn’t make a move without first checking with Ohio State.
The Trojans don’t occupy exactly the same role within the Pac-12 as the Longhorns and Buckeyes in their respective conferences, but the situations are roughly comparable.
2) We have gathered enough information in recent weeks to create a reasonable outline of the process.
Above all, there exists a range of opinion on the vision for the commissioner position:
Some presidents have placed supreme emphasis on the revenue-generation component and prefer candidates with expertise in sports business in order to reach the Holy Grail: A financial future secure enough that athletic departments no longer require subsidies from central campus to support the Olympic sports.
(Good luck with that!)
Some presidents favor a commissioner with campus experience and a grasp of the momentous issues facing college sports, from name, image and likeness to the Alston Case to the transfer portal dervish to College Football Playoff expansion.
Oh, and one more note: Utah and Oregon State currently have interim presidents. We fully expect both to cast a vote, but the recent arrivals of Rebecca Johnson (Corvallis) and Michael Good (Salt Lake City) lend additional uncertainty to the process.
With that, here is the Hotline’s hot board …
Oliver Luck: 3/1: Luck has been an obvious candidate since the evening Larry Scott’s departure became public (Jan. 20).
He has both campus experience, as the former athletic director at West Virginia, and a sports business background, as the commissioner of the XFL and president of NFL Europe.
An NFL quarterback in the 1980s, Luck is familiar with the Pac-12, having raised two Stanford athletes (Andrew, of course, and Mary Ellen, who played volleyball).
What’s more, Luck spent several years as the NCAA’s executive vice president for regulatory affairs, which could be viewed by the presidents as an asset on upcoming legislative and governance issues.
He knows football, he knows the daily challenges faced by athletic departments, and he would seemingly have the trust of the athletic directors. And Luck has the clout within college sports to make sure the Pac-12’s interests are represented on issues like CFP expansion.
As one Pac-12 source told the Hotline recently: “We need someone with juice in college sports.”
Possible snag: He has filed a lawsuit against Vince McMahon, who has countersued, over contractual matters stemming from the collapse of the XFL.
Randy Freer: 7/2: The Hotline has been asked repeatedly over the past three months why we continue to include Freer, the former Fox Sports and Hulu boss, as a possible candidate when no evidence of his involvement seemingly exists.
Ah, but there is one giant clue:
A Hotline investigation last summer, based on internal emails, show the Pac-12 presidents and a small group of advisors discussed hiring Freer as a consultant “to be engaged in the assessment of the Pac 12 media rights and contract issues.”
In other words: To review and judge Larry Scott’s job performance.
Freer has been on their radar for more than a year, folks, on matters at the highest level.
In fact, Freer, who lives in Southern California, knows the Pac-12 media landscape exceedingly well: He negotiated Fox’s end of the $3 billion, 12-year partnership.
Some presidents view the upcoming media rights deal as the absolute priority for the future of their athletic departments; Freer is arguably the Pac-12’s best option at the negotiating table.
He also has a deeper level of involvement in college sports than most media executives: He was integral in reforming the Big East, oversaw Fox Sports’ multimedia rights partnership with USC and has high-level connections throughout college sports.
Possible snags: He does not have experience in football operations, as far as we know; nor has he worked on a campus.
Mystery candidate X: 5/1: Lacking any desire to engage in unfettered speculation – but presuming there are several candidates under serious consideration – we’ll offer a series of models.
Candidate X would be a heavy hitter from the world of college sports: Either an athletic director from a powerhouse school or a high-ranking conference executive.
Mystery candidate Y: 8/1: Candidate Y would be someone from the professional sports, sports business or sports media worlds.
But not Freer.
Mystery candidate Z: 50/1: This would be someone from outside college sports, outside professional sports and outside sports media.
This would be Condoleezza Rice.
This would be a Nike executive.
This would be the CEO of a sporting goods company.
This would be someone far, far outside the box – and, in that regard, entirely predictable for the Pac-12.
Package deal: 20/1: In this scenario, the presidents name a commissioner from the sports business world and a second executive from the college sports space to serve as the primary contact to the campuses, particularly on football.
How the role would be framed (co-commissioner, special advisor, liaison), we’re not sure. But according to sources, the approach has been discussed, with Turnkey reaching out to potential candidates.
We’re fairly confident the conference will end up hiring one person: a commissioner in the traditional sense.
Commissioner named before May 17: 5/2
Why the 17th? Because the Pac-12 presidents are scheduled to hold their annual spring meeting that day.
We don’t believe a vote is on the agenda, but the meeting itself provides us with a benchmark and just might lend internal urgency to the process.
Commissioner named after May 31: 100/1
In other words, there is chaos.
Fearing a contentious vote – and the repercussions if it ever became public – the presidents decide it’s time for a restart.
Except that Scott’s tenure ends on June 30, there’s a vital College Football Playoff meeting in mid-June and massive economic and legislative issues are unfolding this spring.
The conference needs someone to make decisions and represent its interests.
So the presidents name an interim leader – the obvious choice would be Jamie Zaninovich, the current deputy commissioner/COO and former head of the West Coast Conference – and agree to regroup later in the summer.
And if the situation played out in that fashion, would anyone really be surprised?
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