Blog Entry

The Tom Hansen interview

Posted on: June 25, 2009 2:05 am

This is the full transcript of an interview with outgoing Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen. An accompanying column appears on the site.

Q: Have you spoken to (former NCAA executive director) Walter Byers lately?

Hansen: "When I was first here I wrote him once about something and he didn't respond. I saw him at the 1988 Final Four in Kansas City. He was very friendly but I haven't been in contact with him since then."

Q: What kind of guy was Walter to work for?

Hansen: "Walter was marvelous to work for. Walter was a great teacher. Walter was a patient person. He worked with each and every staff member to make us better.

"It was a challenge to me to try to write a story that he wouldn't just blot out with red ink. As I went on, I got better. He was a magnificent editor because that was his background. He made every one of us better. He was fiercely loyal to the staff. If we made a mistake, he would defend us externally with anyone or anybody.

"You knew you had his support in whatever you did. When I started there were seven administrators. He sent us out to do some pretty major things. In addition to TV, I had Congressional relations. I had the first NCAA committee on women's athletics. I was out there on some pretty fierce firefights at times."

Q: No casual Fridays I understand?

Hansen: "When I got there we all worked Saturdays as well. The joke was we spent all lives and all our careers in college athletics but we couldn't go to any football games."

Q: Do you think we'll ever see a playoff in our lifetime?

Hansen: "I hope you live a long, long, long time. I don't expect one in the near future, just because of the many, many difficulties it would include. I don't think so because of the negatives a playoff would entail."

Q: Does the man on the street even understand what the BCS is?

Hansen: "I don't think the man on the street has the full picture to evaluate ... a playoff. I don't think they begin to envision the negatives of a playoff, which would have to be 16 teams for political reasons.

"Most people want to have one more game with four teams playing. That can never be. They vastly underestimate the complexity of a playoff, the fact that you have to play on the college campuses. You'd probably kill the bowl system.

"Then they completely fail to appreciate or recognize the many things the BCS has done to help college football. With the BCS, but not with a playoff system, that we can have 12 (regular-season) games. The 12th game has been a financial bonanza for the bowl subdivision.

"It was done with the tacit understand that the postseason would not be expanded. It has also made the regular season so absolutely outstanding. It's the best regular season of any American sport -- pro or college. We certainly didn't have the foresight to plan it that way but it evolved. Part of it is because every game all season long at least has an indirect effect on what teams play in the BCS."
Q: So you think it would have to be 16 teams to accommodate everyone?

Hansen: "Absolutely. We would have to have automatic qualification for the 11 (Division I-A) conferences. If Notre Dame qualified under the conditions that it does, now you've only four at-large berths left and you'd have a horrible argument over those."

Q: I was reading about the 1984 Supreme Court ruling that broke up the NCAA's monopoly on televised college football.  Do you think the NCAA eventually would have opened up anyway and allowed more teams more appearances?

Hansen: "We already had. I was the architect. About '82 we went to two networks. We went to cable as well. Admittedly, that was trying to stave off the College Football Association. It was clear that television was growing to the point that we had to expand.

"We had two networks and ESPN. They (schools) were sincere in wanting more opportunity. Once the market was fractured, it was many years before the per-game value was achieved again. What was behind that was the desire by certain institutions to do their own programs. It was more than an expansion of the existing NCAA programs."

Q: A lot of people said that was the first step toward the BCS...

Hansen: "I think it was a weigh station on the road toward the BCS ... It was a major step in changing the way Division I football was structured and operated."

Q: When you came to the Pac-10 was, back then, also the only conference that investigated itself in the case of NCAA wrongdoing?

Hansen: "Yes. That had been done because of some problems in the late 70s, early 80s."

Q: How uncomfortable is that for the membership with brother investigating  brother?

Hansen: "Because it's been supported well by the presidents and been thoughtful and positive, it's gone well. It's been very measured and careful.

"Our people support it because we can get an investigator to campus almost immediately. The NCAA, with all of its responsibilities, can't do that. When our investigator arrives on campus our people know him. Whereas the NCAA investigator is almost always a total stranger.

"The other (conference) members also have confidence that once our person gets in there things are going to get cleaned up. Whereas, again, the NCAA doesn't get there for a period of time. That's some of the reasons why it has been supported."

Q: That leads to the next question. When do you think the USC thing will be wrapped up?

Hansen: "Very difficult to predict because of the legal entanglements. I'm speaking more about (Reggie) Bush than I am about (O.J.) Mayo. With Bush you have a case that I think is becoming more prevalent.

"Fifteen years ago before the NCAA took the boosters out of recruiting, the boosters established relationships. They took care of the financial needs of the high, high profile athletes in college. Now you've got the agents doing that.

"Once the student-athlete decides to become a professional you have no leverage to use to get that person to talk to you. All these outside forces, even the university, can't leverage that."

Q: How frustrating is that in getting a fair conclusion to this?

Hansen: "It's enormously frustrating for us, for the university, for the NCAA. Justice delayed is justice denied." 

Q: If it ever comes to vacating or forfeiting USC victories, the BCS commissioners might be in the awkward position of having to take away a championship. How uncomfortable would that be?

Hansen: "I think it would be very uncomfortable. Yet, over the years in the NCAA that same responsibility has fallen to faculty representatives, athletic directors and others. It has been done by peers, although not as quite as directly as competitive peers as commissioners would be."

Q: Would commissioners have the guts to take that step?

"It's also a fact that the BCS commissioners or I-A commissioners wouldn't have been involved in any investigation or finding of facts. It's a very different, and I think quite awkward, situation."

Q: You're the longest tenured commissioner in I-A, what's your biggest memory or accomplishment in the Pac-10?

Hansen: "I think a couple of things. Establishing the television contracts we have and establishing our women's athletic programs is another of which I'm very proud." 

Q: It seems to be a topic on the West Coast, getting games on at better times in the East. At the same time you've had tremendous exposure through USC.

Hansen: "Right now our programs are in very good shape. We had 11 national championships and five bowl wins alone (this season). I'm very proud I'm going out at a time we're quite obviously highly, highly competitive. This year is the seventh time we've won 10 or more NCAA championships. No other conference has done that."

Q: Does the Pac-10 need to expand?

Hansen: "Probably not. If Division I-A stays basically in the same structure, I don't think so. The reason a conference expands is to get more football TV homes for television purposes. Short of going to Texas which we tried to do in the early 90s, there is no other institution that brings more TV homes than our average.

"Our TV area is about 18 million (viewers). We need someone with more than 1.8 million TV homes. The state of Texas has about seven percent (of the total viewers). That works but nothing else really works."

"The other thing is, our ADs have looked at the conference playoff. It's not nearly as lucrative as more television income. (Proponents) want to go to 12 and then have to go into divisions in football. We worked very hard to get a complete (round-robin) conference schedule. Our ADs would not want to retreat from that." 

Q: What are you going to do in retirement?

Hansen: "I'm not going to run around and consult like some of my friends who are retired. I'm going to be content, I think, to play golf and work in the yard and travel.

"One of things that is amusing. We have never spent much time exploring the Bay Area or Northern California. Because we've spent so many weekends at game and at meetings we haven't done that. That's one thing that is high on our priority list."

Q: Given all we've talked about, is this almost the best college football has ever been? For example, the two highest growing sports are NASCAR and college football.

Hansen: "That's true. College football television-wise and attendance-wise has never been better. The TV ratings, if not historically high right now, are so solid. The postseason have been very strong the last several years. It can be said that it is (better than ever)."

Q: Is the Rose Bowl still the same as it was because of the BCS? Has it retained its magic?

Hansen: "I think it has., particularly when we come back to a Pac-10-Big Ten game which is really the basis of it. We were surprised by the number of times that didn't happen (because of the BCS). That's come back now somewhat. The addition of the fifth game was critical to that. When you hosted the national championship game, you didn't lose the Rose Bowl.

"I think the most exciting time you could ever experience was two o'clock on January 1 when the teams are lining up for the kickoff. It's almost like the stadium starts to levitate a little bit. It's a glorious, glorious thing to be a part of."

Q: Can your BCS brethren, weather this latest storm from Capitol Hill?

Hansen: "I think so. I don't take that as more than politics instigated by the senators or congressmen from certain areas ... We understand that. The federal government has no business trying to regulate the postseason. I don't think there are many in the Congress that seriously consider doing so."


Category: NCAAF
Tags: Pac-10, USC
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