Zack Menchel, Murrow News Service
PULLMAN –If TV watchers and ticket-buyers are increasingly irritated with the late starts for Pac-12 Conference football games . . . well, too bad.
“They’re a fundamental part of our new TV agreement and of high value to our broadcast partners,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told WSU students, faculty and alumni in the CUB Auditorium Thursday night before the Cougars game against Arizona State. Scott’s campus session touched on a number of sports topics:
Pac-12 Networka not just football
Scott spoke with pride regarding his role in the development of the Pac-12 Networks and its importance in expanding the conference’s reach. Recently, the late start times have drawn the ire of University of Washington athletics director Scott Woodward and a growing number of fans.
With the creation of the Pac-12 Networks, Scott said one of the main goals was to garner more exposure for the Olympic sports — not just high-revenue sports of football and men’s basketball.
“Part of the DNA of our conference has been broad-based excellence in athletics because in addition to the academic prestige of our universities, we have won more NCAA titles than any other conference,” said Scott. “We’re really prolific when it comes to the Olympic sports and we wanted this to be seen.“
Scott said 750 live sports events are slated for broadcast this year, 250 more than the launch in 2011. While football and basketball still comprise the lion’s share of the telecasts, there is an increasing desire to continue to find air time for Olympic sports more evenly.
“These sports and the student-athletes are traditionally well known in the country for what they do, but haven’t been able to get the same coverage that other sports have gotten,” he said.
“What I think this does for the future is help position the conference extraordinarily well in terms of our ability to recruit top student-athletes for a multitude of reasons, which now include knowing their family and friends will have a chance to see them on TV.”
Scott said he and his team realized that the Pac-12 needed to be more competitive nationally and give alumni and fans a chance to follow teams and players in a new way.
“The benefits of the media agreement are really multi-faceted,” he said. “The money that comes in gets the most media attention, but as I travel to our campuses every week and witness the support for all these athletic programs as well as the student athletes who have arrived thanks to the influx of money, it’s very gratifying.”
Equal revenue sharing
Scott cited revenue sharing as the most critical factor to the success of the Pac-12.
“I came to the conference with a belief that all successful leagues must have healthy, competitive teams from top to bottom,” he said. “That is the hallmark of a successful conference.”
Before his arrival, the money generated from football and basketball would not be shared evenly among the schools, but split between the participating schools.
“The programs from the larger markets such as our two Los Angeles schools were teams that would get significantly more money than smaller media markets who were televised less,” he said. “This created significant disparity with unequal revenue and it wasn’t helped by the conference not selling all the TV rates.”
That circumstance helped give rise in 2011 to the 12-year, $3.4 billion television contract with ESPN and Fox, distributed evenly across the conference.
“Our revenue streams increased dramatically, and knowing that revenue would be shared equally created an uplift for the smaller schools to grow on the same level,” he said. “It’s really hard to overstate the impact. I get excited to see where we’ll be five years in the future now that the national media has noticed our depth.”
Scott was asked to detail the Pac-12’s plan to mitigate the issues of head trauma and concussions, specifically in football.
He said that the board of directors was tasked to decide if the issue was best left to the institutions or if there was reason for the conference to help.
The conference is now engaged.
“We are in the business of building brains, not just in terms of intelligence but also the health and well-being of all students,” said Scott. “When student athletes are facing risk factors and physical threats to that well-being, we as a conference decided that we had to get engaged.”
Scott is creating a head-trauma task force and steering committee aimed to coordinate research initiatives. The conference is committing $3.5 million next year to the project.
“We will work to identify and track head trauma more efficiently,” said Scott. “We want to figure out if there are necessary rule changes or further protective measures in order to create a safer intercollegiate athletic environment.”