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Scott bold to take Pac-12 where no conference has gone before

by | CBSSports.com
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Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott doesn't appear to be a big believer in paper. No, Scott is all about being digital in a digital age, strolling to the podium Wednesday morning to announce the Pac-12's new media deal holding only an iPad.

It was fitting that he was able to get his message across using a new and exciting medium very few people at his level even know how to work. Scott, brought on board over a year ago by the Pac-10 presidents to revamp the conference's image, has done much more than that, positioning them to become a media empire and, as a result, pose the biggest threat to the Southeastern Conference's dominance of the college football landscape.

Larry Scott had made the Pac-12 a serious player off the field. (US Presswire)  
Larry Scott had made the Pac-12 a serious player off the field. (US Presswire)  
The SEC is still king on the field, winning the past five BCS national championships. Off the field though, the tables have been turned and the new Pac-12 deal gives the league a chance to become the conference everyone is talking about.

"Commissioner Scott made sure they expanded so that the league delivered the biggest footprint of any conference in the country," said David Carter, head of USC's Sports Business Institute and a consultant to several sports organizations. "You also have big media markets like L.A. and the Bay Area so that when you start to go through that check list, you pretty quickly recognize the opportunity at hand.

"Some have said the Pac-10 isn't the SEC or the Big Ten but now I think everybody has to understand that it has the reach and the stature that advertisers and others have been looking for."

When the SEC announced its 15-year deal with CBS, it called the conference the "gold standard". If today's 12 year, $2.7 billion deal is any indication, the Pac-12 has gotten off the gold standard and onto a much more lucrative digital standard.

Starting in 2012, every football and men's basketball game will be televised on either ESPN, Fox Sports or the new Pac-12 network. The majority of women's basketball games will also have a spot on the dial and thousands of Olympic events will be streamed live over the Internet. With every game online and with the right distribution of their own network, you're talking about every important football game being available nationally and that's hard to ignore.

Scott has given the conference everything it needs to be successful in the changing landscape but that means there's no excuse for the Pac-12 on the field because of what's happening off. It'll have the money for football facilities just like those in the SEC or Big 12. Some, such as USC and Oregon, are already spending the expected windfall on fancy new buildings. Head coach and assistant salaries should be competitive with any school in the country so if/when Washington State lets go of Paul Wulff next year, it'll be able to get a much better candidate than they could have dreamed of a few months ago. Remember, it wasn't too long ago that the Cougars were in a BCS bowl (2003 Rose).

Going forward, the conference can be just as tough week-in, week-out as anybody else in the country. Let's just hope it doesn't mean we'll see more directional schools on the schedule as a result.

SEC and Big Ten coaches in all sports are no longer the only ones that can go into the living room of a recruit and reassure his parents they'll be able to see their son on television every week. That's a big deal when you consider the long distances between some of the schools in the reconfigured Pac-12 and the emphasis most of the conference places on recruiting California.

The lucrative new deal is all about the Pac-12 being in more places at more times for a lot more money. Bigger, better, faster might be the SEC way of developing talented football players but it's also the Pac-12's new way of developing programs.

"[The deal] exceeds my expectations but not overly so," Washington athletic director Scott Woodward told the Seattle Times. "I've been very bullish on how good our product is and how competitive we are."

The SEC will always remain one of the most popular conferences thanks to their passionate fans and ability to grab great players from a region that produces a whole lot of them. But it's also clear the perception of the Pac-10 has moved far away from the notion that it was "only" USC and nine other schools who played football. Oregon was a handful of plays away from a national title this past season and is primed to make a run again this season if it beats LSU. Several pundits are picking Arizona State to win the league and the Heisman Trophy front-runner goes to school at Stanford, not in the SEC. Even USC, hit hard by NCAA sanctions, has been able to reel in top-five recruiting classes without missing a beat.

Does it mean the Pac-12 will soon overtake the SEC as the flagship brand of college football? Probably not in the near term but the recent moves Scott and his assistants have pulled off signal it's now the biggest threat. Even if it's not the most popular in the United States, that doesn't mean it couldn't be the most popular worldwide either.

"International, and Asia in particular, is the next frontier," Scott said. "I'm going to focus my efforts on that. The leading western universities in the states and our geography have connections to Asia. We're the gateway to the Pacific Rim and very much want to focus on sports broadening the educational goals of our schools."

Both ESPN and News Corp. (Fox's parent company) made certain guarantees as part of the deal for international distribution. Scott has met with Apple and Google among others to ensure the Pac-12 is at the forefront of digital distribution. As much as ESPN and CBS will reassure SEC commissioner Mike Slive that you'll be able to find games on wherever you go, the Pac-12 will likely make sure you find its first.

"We've been able to develop relationships with the thought leaders out in Silicon Valley," Scott said. "I think we have the opportunity out here to peak behind the curtain as to where the world is going."

Keeping all of the future digital revenue on top of what they're getting from the cable networks, in the form of a wholly owned company called Pac-12 Media Enterprises, might have been Scott's greatest coup. If the concept of "TV anywhere" takes off like many expect, schools could be looking at much more than $21 million per year from the conference.

"That was clearly one of the major successes to this deal, he didn't have to give up any equity in a new channel," Carter added. "It really allows them to have their cake and eat it too."

Scott isn't likely to stand pat over the life of the 12-year deal either. He boldly tried to add Texas, Oklahoma and a few other Big 12 schools to form the first superconference just a summer ago and he insisted on putting provisions into the new deal to ensure a revenue bump if he's able to pull off the maneuver over the next few years.

"Both ESPN and Fox know my views," Scott said. "They both know that if we were to expand, there would be appropriate adjustments to our fees and we certainly have the ability to expand under these contracts. I don't foresee it happening in the near future but it's my view that there will be further expansion down the road."

No longer is the Pac-12 at the conference kiddie table on Versus at 10:30 p.m. Eastern. Now it'll be on Fox and ABC in primetime, on your computer and yes, even Larry Scott's iPad.

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