Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott held a press conference today during the session break. Obviously, the one thing he wouldn’t talk about is the one thing that everyone wanted to ask him about – Las Vegas.
What he did say was that no deal was finished and there were several bid proposals. But one thing for certain is that the tournament won’t be at the Staples Center next year. And I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.
Other things discussed
- Whether the team will get multiple bids to the NCAA tournament
- The push for a playoff system in football
- the Pac-12 network
- And the scheduling format for next year for the tournament
- the future of the women’s tournament
Full transcript after the jump ….
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Nice to see you all for our 11th Pacific Life Pac‑12 Championship here, obviously an important event for us. An awful lot on the line for many teams, a lot hanging in the balance, and we’re looking forward to a great competition this week, successful tournament. Really just like to make myself available, when we have so many of the media here, to thank you for your support of the conference during the year, during the basketball season, and just to be available and answer any questions that you have.
I do want to say at the outset I know there is a lot of speculation about the future of this tournament. This is the last year of our TV agreements with ESPN and FOX, and by virtue of our FOX broadcast agreement they’ve had the rights to operate our basketball tournament. They’ve done that through an agreement here at the Staples Center. So with our broadcast agreements expiring, the agreement here at Staples expires at the end of this year.
No decision has been made about what we’re doing next year. We’ve been going through a very extensive RFP process, request for proposal process. A real testament to the partners that have been working on the event here over the years, AEG and FOX, they’ve built up this event to the point where it’s got a tremendous prestige and stature, and it’s a very coveted event thanks to the great work that they’ve done with it over the years. So much so that we have multiple cities in our footprint that have bid for the tournament very aggressively. So we have some tough decisions to make going forward and we’ve narrowed the process.
As we do every year, we’ve got our different stake holder group that’s meet this week, including athletics directors, our faculty reps, senior women administrators. And it all culminates with the board meeting we have over the weekend with our presidents and chancellors. So any ultimate decisions about what we might be doing would be made no sooner than that meeting over the weekend. When we have a decision, we’ll communicate it in all likelihood shortly after the tournament’s over, if a decision is made this weekend.
So I know there has been some speculations and some rumor and question about whether a decision has been made or not, and I just wanted to clarify it hasn’t yet, but we’ve very much narrowed the process and are close to that point.
So with that, I know there are no shortage of topics of interest out there and happy to answer any questions you have on any topic.
Q. How disappointed are you in the sparse gathering here today?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, this day I think traditionally during the week, work week, school, et cetera, and like a lot of conference tournaments I think it builds. Evening sessions are always stronger. As the week progresses, it’s stronger. But obviously we’d love a full house for every single round, and we’ll always work toward that.
Definitely think that our student‑athletes deserve to play in front of as big a crowds as possible. But I don’t think it’s unusual for a conference tournament to start off this way.
Q. I’m thinking mostly because it’s UCLA and USC, local teams too.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah, people said if I were better at my job, this bracket wouldn’t have come out this way. So that’s a joke (laughing). We don’t actually organize the bracket. It’s random, so it came out this way.
It’s unfortunate that such an amazing, marquise match‑up of the two L.A. schools wouldn’t have been at a different time, but that’s the way the draw works out.
Q. Ask you a question about the level of the league right now and does your office spend a lot of time looking into and thinking about why the league had what is perceived to be a fairly rough year on a national level? Or do you just write it off as a bad year?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah, well, look, we are paying close attention to all important aspects of basketball. It’s obviously very important. There is no doubt that our conference this year hasn’t been at the level that people are used to it being at. I mean, I’m often reminded with one more NCAA Championships than any other conference, and we’re one of the most storied leagues out there in terms of our history and our heritage.
So I personally spend a lot of time talking to our coaches, talking to our administrators about how we’re doing. How’s the outlook looking? Seems like we’re a little down. Any reasons for it? You probably heard some of what I hear when I talk to folks just in terms of the double‑edged sword of having all this elite talent that comes through our league, they tend to leave pretty quickly.
If you look at the lineups of some of the NBA rosters, they’re pretty well‑populated with Pac‑12 alumni in there. So there is no doubt our conference is off from its historical levels this year, but I know we’ve got great coaches. We’ve got great facilities that are improving, and the outlook, from what I understand, is very, very bright from a recruiting standpoint and all of that.
The more I talk to people, the more I realize it’s a bit cyclical. All conferences go through cycles, but I’ve got really very little worry about mid to long‑term. This conference remaining one of the elite basketball conferences.
Q. I know that nothing has been decided yet, but a lot of speculation on the tournament moving to the MGM Grand in Vegas. If that were to happen theoretically, they have the WCC in Vegas, the Mountain West and the WAC. How would that work in terms of scheduling so you’re not all climbing over each other?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, I really can’t comment on sort of a hypothetical, which it is at this point in time. But I certainly can confirm that they’re one of the bidders for the tournament. There are other tournaments going on that week, so obviously we would be up against other leagues if we were there.
Q. Is each event its own entity and you don’t overlap much?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We honestly have not thought a lot about other leagues and how they schedule. Whether it’s in person‑‑ frankly, I think more about TV and what our TV windows would be and how that matches up. That’s actually the thing. I think about the audience we reach where we are, I think a lot more about TV and how we’d maximize the national following, especially this week, because people are gearing up for the NCAA Tournament.
One of the things I’m very excited about in our tournament regardless of location going forward, next year we’re with ESPN and FOX and we’re going to have more games with national clearance from our tournament along with the Pac‑12 Network. So the total audience for the tournament next year is going to be significantly bigger than it is this year.
Q. So next year will you announce the broadcast agreement for next year when you announce the location?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: No, we’ve already announced the broadcast agreement.
Q. What sort of role do the broadcasters have in making the decision where it is, and how do you balance what it looks like on TV with what it feels like when you’re in the building which are two different things?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We announced our broadcast agreement when we announced the deal with ESPN‑FOX and the launch of the Pac‑12 networks. We may not have gone into great detail at that stage about how broadcast will work for the championship.
The way it will work is we alternate back and forth between ESPN one year and FOX the next year in terms of who is going to be our licensed broadcast partner for the championship. Like we’re going to be going back and forth with our football championship game.
So for the inaugural year of the new broadcast agreement, FOX is going to be the broadcast partner for the football championship game on that first Friday night in December. ESPN is going to be the licensed broadcast partner for the first year of our basketball championship going forward. They’ll be broadcasting a quarterfinal game, semifinal game, and the championship game. We haven’t determined, but we will as part of this decision that we’re going to make, the exact time and the exact broadcast window that will go into it.
Every other game of the tournament will be broadcast on Pac‑12 Network. So every game, the men’s and women’s tournament, is going to be broadcast on television through the Pac‑12 networks, and in this case, ESPN next year.
Kind of like we made the decision vis‑a‑vis the football championship game, a very important consideration from my perspective is thinking about the national implications of these decisions. So, as I answered the question before, I tend to think about a lot of how this is going to project to the millions of people that are going to be watching on TV. As we’ve made efforts to really position the conference as a national brand, we’re thinking about national exposure.
Now it is portrayed on TV, the energy of the crowd, how that comes through, I certainly believe that really translates into the feeling of an event.
So those types of issues are very much front and center as we go through this process and evaluate options.
Q. Utah’s having a down year, but overall, what do you think Colorado and Utah bring to this conference for basketball?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah, we’re very excited about Colorado and Utah having joined. There is a lot that’s new about the conference. There is a new energy, new dynamics, new match‑ups, new road trips, new rivalries. So they brought a great energy, and obviously through the addition of Colorado and Utah, we’ve been able to achieve things of historic proportions in terms of creating football championship games, the new TV agreements, launching a network, having Utah and Colorado or Salt Lake and Denver in particular are two of the top 35 media markets in the country, absolutely critical to the success of what we’ve been able to achieve with the initial distribution of the Pac‑12 networks, the economics around that, the audience around that, really is tick the boxes in terms of what we hope for from a macro perspective. And culturally this has been a great fit. I can’t point to any issues we’ve had in terms of transition.
Q. I’ve had a couple fans inquire about the 9:40 mountain start time. Is that time slot going to be normal every year at this tournament with the new agreement?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It’s definitely challenging our schedulers in terms of having to think more about Mountain time zone as well as Pacific time zone. We’ve had to deal with that with Arizona at certain points in time in the year. In a way it gives us some more flexibility in terms of scheduling windows going forward.
But with these tournaments, we’re playing four games in a day, you wind up-starting a little earlier than you’d like, and ending a little later than you’d like. But these are kind of unusual four‑game a day situations that are tough to get around.
Q. You said MGM or Las Vegas had submitted a bid. What would make them kind of an intriguing or tantalizing option if you were to move the tournament?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I don’t really want to comment on any of the bids at this point in time.
Q. How did the women fit into this arrangement? Will they come along with the men? Will you have a split venue like you do now?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We’ve looked at multiple models. Obviously the history of our women’s event and men’s event have been separate. The women’s tournament was in the same city but a separate venue.
Last year we migrated in the same city, but a hybrid where the early rounds, that’s what we’re doing this year, at Galen Center, and semifinals and final here.
As part of this process we’ve looked at a bunch of different models, together, separate, and that’s part of what we’ll be making decisions on potentially this week while we’re here.
Q. Can you put your finger on reasons why this event hasn’t taken hold here in Los Angeles as much as you would have liked it to?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I don’t think I characterize it as not having taken hold. It’s been here for 11 years. There have been years I’ve read I think where there have been as many as almost 90,000 people coming here during the week, which is sort of a great result, years when some of the L.A. schools have been doing particularly well.
So obviously when you’re in a market that’s heavily dependent on the local schools, the interest is very normal. The interest of the event may go up or down depending on how those particular teams are doing.
Aside from that, we’ve got an iconic venue, unbelievably professional organization, a lot of marketing effort made by FOX. As our new teams come on board, there’s been a lot of energy and effort put into it. So I actually feel very good about the effort that’s been put in.
I think everything that you can do in a market like L.A., which we know is a tough market, has been done. Through AEG, through FOX, through our team, UCLA, and USC have been part of the team working on it. I think it’s been a great team effort.
To some extent, the interest rises and falls based on the teams and their success, and who has the fan base that’s going to support an event in a market like this.
Q. Lot of talk at the BCS meetings last week. At what point do you feel the conference will come to a consensus on a specific proposal?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It’s a little hard to say exactly. It’s a process where we discuss concepts. Get more specific proposals. I’ve been in constant dialogue with our ADs, with our presidents over the last few months, with our partners at the Rose Bowl in terms of thinking about our priorities. Starting to talk about options. Things are starting to get more specific in terms of possible models. It will just be an ongoing process.
I don’t know that there will be a point that our conference kind of declares exactly what it supports. I’ve been told there is a specific proposal in front of us, but we’re kind of far from that point and there is a lot more work that I need to do with my colleagues from the other conferences to narrow options, to kind of vet them to think about all the implications.
If we get to the point where there is a consensus emerging around a model or two, I think that’s when conferences will be asked to kind of officially vote on something. But it’s a little bit hard to predict exactly, but it’s probably summertime. Whether it’s the front of the summer or back of the summer is hard to know.
Q. Is there a number of teams that you think would be a fair number for the NCAA committee to select from the Pac‑12 for this tournament?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, it’s probably a little too early to say. Certainly the conference tournaments are really important. From a Pac‑12 conference perspective as well as from the other conferences. So I think it’s a little early to say, you know, what would be fair. I want to see how our teams do this week.
What is fair to say, and I think last year was a good example, I think the conference is probably undervalued in terms of the caliber of the teams. I think several of our teams have made great improvement. We’ve got amazing coaches that really develop their teams well.
Last year was a great example for me in watching Cal and Arizona. Arizona wound up being some huge surprise to the rest of the country. It was like Derrick Williams didn’t exist until the tournament started.
Well, those of us that are following it are here and see it, but the rest of the country kind of woke up to the caliber and depth of the conference only after the tournament started.
So we’ve still got some lag factor in terms of the exposure from our games. We’re not as national in our footprint, and people in our conferences, people aren’t following our conference as closely as some others because of the way our television is distributed right now. That will dramatically change next year with the way our TV is lined up.
We’ll have 44 games on ESPN next year, another 22 on FOX, and 125, more or less, the balance of our games will be on the Pac‑12 networks. Every single men’s basketball game is going to be on TV nationally next year. That’s going to represent a sea change in terms of the exposure and the ability of people to follow the conference.
The bottom line is, I think our conference is a lot stronger than some of what I’m reading makes the conference out to be. It tends to get proven during the actual tournament itself.
My guess is what’s fair is probably be fair to have a couple more teams in than we’ll actually get in. How’s that for an answer?
Q. It seems like since you’ve taken over a complete and total overhaul or remodel or almost gutting the house would be a pretty apt description. What else is on the to‑do list?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: We’ve got a lot that we’re focused on at the moment. We’ve got our eye on the ball obviously this process that we’ve been talking about, vis‑a‑vis this tournament. But I can’t overstate all of the effort and all that’s involved in getting ready to launch seven TV networks in August, as well as to kind of take back in‑house, the running of the championships, the marketing of our championships, and the launch of our own digital network.
In addition to the seven TV networks, we’re creating the first ever college conference digital portal where we’ll be managing and overseeing all of the athletic websites for our schools.
They have agreements that expire over a period of years when they’ll then fold into our portal. But we’ve taken on an enormous challenge. We’re doing it all ourselves. We don’t have a media company partner that’s working with us.
So 50% of my time is spent working with our team that’s developing all of that, along with what we’ve talked about before and obviously BCS and all of that. So there are some very important strategic and business issues that we’re working on at the moment.
The other thing you’ve read some about is while it’s down the road that this will kick in, we’re also starting to plant seeds overseas and working on developing competitions in China, in particular, starting 2013. That’s got a lot of traction as well. So that’s what I’ve spent a lot of time on these days.
Q. Last time I saw you at the Rose Bowl, you were talking about deals you had with cable companies and satellite companies. What is the situation with that? Have you got that deal with that Chinese network to have the Pac‑12 on them?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So we’re on track in terms of distribution. We’re fortunate. Very, very rare that a new TV network is able to secure 40 million home distribution a year in advance of launch, and we had that luxury, if you will. As a result of that, we’ve been concentrating on building our team.
We’ve now got a space in San Francisco. A lot of work going into building it out. Part of building a team was bringing on board a staff that’s going to lead additional distribution efforts.
So we’ve now as of this week touched base and had preliminary meetings with all the other major distributors across the country, satellite broadcasters, tell cos, like the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world, and other important cable companies. But those have been preliminary meetings with all of them getting very positive and warm reception to what we’re doing.
As you know we’ll have 34 football games and often times the best game of the week. So it’s going to be very, very high‑caliber football content. Same in basketball with 125 games in several weeks thee best game of the week where we get the first selection. It’s going to be very high caliber. So not surprising we’re getting a pretty good reception from people.
But these are negotiation processes with a lot at stake financially and other commitments. So I expect it’s going to take a little while. We’re hopeful we’ll have a lot of exciting announcements prior to launch, which will be sometime in August. But it’s really impossible to predict the exact timetable there.
Q. Do you have anything with Direct TV yet?
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: No, we have not announced any satellite distribution deals yet. We have good ongoing conversations with the two major players. Thank you.