Conference expansion was one of the first topics Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott was asked about last year when he was hired. It has dominated much of his time and energy since he acknowledged the conference was open to a new way forward and possibly starting a championship game in football.
The Pac-10 previously invited the University of Colorado to join its ranks in the mid-1990s, but CU leaders decided to remain with old friends in the newly formed Big 12. CU is once again a leading contender for a Pac-10 invitation if Scott and the league's presidents decide bigger is better for the Pac-10's future. Colorado would bring the 16th largest television market in the nation and one not currently in the Pac-10, and
Scott talked with the Camera on Wednesday about the process the Pac-10 is going through to make its decision. He did not answer questions specific to particular schools and made it clear the Pac-10 is probably still months away from a decision about its future.
Where do things stand right now in the process you are going through to decide whether or not the Pac-10 will expand?
“We're on course with the timing and process that we've talked about previously, which is going through an examination of our conference and different strategic options that we have going forward in preparation for our upcoming media negotiations which start in 2011. So this year is the time frame within which we are examining this, and we'll make a determination as to whether we will expand or not, and if so, what the nature of it will be.”
Was there anything concrete that came out of the meetings with the Big 12 and Pac-10 athletic directors last week in Phoenix?
“No. It was a continuation of a dialogue that was started with Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe back in the fall. We had meetings to outline a possible framework for cooperation between out two conferences, and those conversations had continued in the ensuing months and concepts have been developed. Last week was just a great opportunity around Pac-10 spring meetings, with several Big 12 athletic directors in Phoenix, to get those groups together to give some air time to some of the ideas that commissioner Beebe and I had been discussing and get some reactions and some discussion going amongst the athletic directors. The discussions were positive. We got good feedback and we were encouraged to further develop some of the concepts and ideas that were discussed around a possible strategic alliance between the Big 12 and the Pac-10.”
When you say “concepts and ideas” to what are you specifically referring?
“I guess the very concrete area of cooperation through such a strategic alliance would be television rights. First and foremost, any alliance between our two conferences would be centered around the pooling of television rights from the Big 12 schools and the Pac-10 schools so that we could go to market together. If you take all the Big 12 markets and the Pac-10 markets, you've got 33 percent of all U.S. TV households. It would be a very significant and formidable alliance from a media value perspective. So that would be the concrete underpinning of any alliance between us. There are other things that have been talked about, but in fairness, those are still at a conceptual stage, like scheduling, collaborating between us for more Big 12-Pac-10 matchups. And cooperation on officiating and governance. So those ideas are less developed, but the concrete underpinning would be TV.”
Have you asked the NCAA for a waiver that would allow the Pac-10 to have a football championship game without 12 teams?
“We have not made a formal request. It is something we have discussed amongst other conference commissioners and we believe we would have support for such a proposal, but we haven't made any request. That would be premature.”
You recently hired a firm to help evaluate expansion opportunities among other things. What answers are you looking for from them that you might not already have?
“We've hired Creative Artists Agency, the leading entertainment agency in the world based out of Los Angeles. They also have a media advisory group with deep experience in media evaluation, negotiation and the development of branding networks, which is something we're taking a serious look at. They're going to be helping consult with us on our media negotiations. They have been asked to work with us in looking at different scenarios we're contemplating regarding expansion and comparing it to our current structure and trying to place a value and give us some analysis. What would be the concrete media value to the conference of different scenarios. Then the third thing that they're doing is helping us with some of our new brand marketing plans, adding an entertainment component also technology. A lot of our markets are in Silicone Valley and the technology corridor here on the West Coast. We're very much looking to enhance our transitioning and collaboration and being a leader in technology and entertainment.”
We've read and heard a lot about other conferences waiting to see what the Big Ten does in its evaluation of conference expansion, but it's unlikely you would be courting many of the same schools if both conferences expand. Could the Pac-10 move first?
“I can't speak to how other conferences are thinking about it. We, starting from last summer, talked about this expansion analysis we were going to be doing. So we're on course with the same objectives and the same time frames that I talked about nine months ago. Frankly, nothing has changed for us. We're going about our work analytically, strategically and deliberately and nothing has changed. I don't see what the Big Ten does that is going to tangibly affect us or our analysis of options. It may be different for other conferences or schools, but we're looking at expansion to the extent it could add value for our conference, and that really hasn't changed.”
So it is inaccurate to say the Pac-10 is waiting on the Big Ten to do something?
“That would certainly be inaccurate. I don't know when the Big Ten might decide what they're going to do, but it's not going to affect our timing. We could very well decide before they decide. They might decide before us. I don't know and I don't think it matters in terms of what we're going to do. I think their analysis and what they're going to do affects a different part of the country than what we're looking at.”
A lot of scenarios have been put out there by various people from remaining at 10 to expanding by two, four or six or adding your own television network and a football championship game. Have any of those scenarios been eliminated yet?
“No. We're still, I'd say, at an early stage. Now just to be clear, I think those scenarios are speculation and have been put out, I think, by the media. I haven't put out any scenarios and won't.”
What qualities does a school have to possess for the Pac-10 to consider inviting it to the conference?
“Well. We're starting the analysis by looking at the volume that would get added to the Pac-10 potentially, and that's why a deeper level of rigorous analysis is now going to start. So first and foremost, we're looking at the value proposition in terms of our media reach and the revenues that would flow to the conference. That is twinned with the fact that the current NCAA regulations you have to have 12 teams in your conference to have a football championship. So in parallel, we're analyzing what the potential value of a football championship would be to our conference. That is first and foremost what our analysis is centered around. We're also looking, of course, at athletic excellence and academics.”
How significant are the academic reputation and performance of possible candidates?
“It will be of paramount importance to our presidents. Seven of our 10 schools are AAU research institutions and the other three are very high Carnegie Research institutions. Our conference very much prides itself on its academic excellence twinned with athletic excellence. We're a conference that is proud to have some of the finest academic and research institutions in the country and some of the most esteemed, and some of those schools happen to also be some of the most prolific athletically. The Pac-10 is a conference that has won more NCAA championships than any other. So it's these twin goals of athletic and academic excellence which are the DNA of the Pac-10 conference. We're looking for that academic, cultural and athletic fit, and that will be the lens that this all gets looked at from.”
The idea of moving to the Pac-10 has been greeted by Colorado fans with a lot of enthusiasm and support without even an invitation or knowledge that one will come. Are you aware of that? Does it impact the Pac-10 view of the school in any way?
“I'm resisting and will continue to resist commenting on any individual school or any individual scenario. I can appreciate the question, but I don't really want to comment on any school or scenario in particular.”
You're obviously looking to expand television revenue. Can you do that without expanding into the Mountain and possibly Central time zones?
“Certainly. College sports has been significantly undervalued. The recent deals that the SEC has done with ESPN and that the Big Ten has done with the formation of their network have raised the bar, and other conferences that are going to sell their TV rights are certainly going to see an uplift. The ACC is in the market right now to negotiate their rights, and while I'm not privy to any of those discussions, I suspect you're going to see them get a significant increase in their television rights without any expansion. I think the Pac-10 is in the same situation. College football, in particular, has never been more successful in terms of TV ratings, attendance. And this is a very robust media market. So there is a lot of dynamics out there that give me confidence that without any changes in our current form as Pac-10, with some of the changes that we're making in our current framework, in terms of how we're branding, marketing and positioning the conference, we're going to see a significant uplift in our media value in our current form. That's what makes the media analysis regarding expansion a little bit more complicated. We've got to look at it from the perspective of how much improvement are we going to see with the measures that we're implementing in our current footprint versus the added value other schools might potentially bring to the conference and what new media markets might potentially bring to the conference.”
What are the minimum requirements you're looking for in terms of a school's ability to help expand your television footprint? Is there a certain number or percentage of households that you know you will need to consider that school for expansion?
“We haven't articulated any minimum requirements in terms of market. The only thing I would say is that in terms of adding more value, in all likelihood, we're most likely to do that if we're looking at markets we're not already in.”
Is there a scenario that does not include the state of Texas which expands the conference east of the Mountain time zone?
“Again, I'm not going to comment on any individual school or scenario.”
Is it possible the Pac-10 could help defray the cost for a school to leave its conference and join the Pac-10 if the conference opts to expand?
“That is a hypothetical I don't want to comment on.”
Given that you start your next round of television negotiations early next year, when could we expect to know whether the Pac-10 is going to expand and possibly see invitations issued?
“I'm not sure at exactly what pace our analysis and internal discussions will proceed. We don't have a definitive timeline except to say our process will, our presidents would like to see it concluded by the end of this year.”
You have meetings coming again in a few weeks, do you expect this topic to dominate those meetings and do you expect any significant developments at that time?
“We have summer meetings with our key stakeholder groups, including a meeting with our presidents and chancellors in early June. Certainly we will be discussing this topic. Our presidents and chancellors are very engaged generally and specifically with this topic, and they are the group that would ultimately make any decisions. But don't expect any definitive decisions or any news to come out of our meetings.”