SALT LAKE CITY — The Pac-12 as a conference is in serious trouble financially and not doing much better on the football field.
The conference failed again to get a team in the four-team college playoff, further pushing it into irrelevance nationally. To make matters worse, Washington State was passed over for one of the New Year’s Six bowls, drastically reducing the conference’s stature and financial payout.
In terms of money, the Pac-12 lags far behind what the other Power Five conferences receive from their annual television deals. Speaking of television, the Pac-12 Network still is not on DirecTV and has not come close to generating the money university administrators expected.
On the field, the officiating during football games has devolved into a punch line, with numerous jokes made at the expense of Pac-12 referees. After Utah’s game against Washington in the Pac-12 championship game ended with a no-call on what appeared to be a blatant pass interference, an irate Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said in the press conference he was used to the poor officiating.
And then there’s the leadership issue. Frankly, commissioner Larry Scott is not viewed positively by many.
The list goes on.
“The Pac-12 is mired in this really kind of dark place for the conference,” said Stewart Mandel, columnist for The Athletic.
In fact, a four-part series published last week by John Canzano of the Oregonian, extensive research showed the conference is paying almost $7 million annually in rent for its headquarters in an extremely expensive part of San Francisco. Scott also draws a $4.8 million salary, more than double than that of other Power Five commissioners.
All is not well even if Scott indicates otherwise, as he did in a press conference before the championship game.
“I think there's a lot of mischaracterizations in it,” Scott of the report. “I know we're challenging to follow because we're unique as a conference in that we're a conference on the one hand, but when it comes to head counts, financial results, we're actually a media company as well. The way all that gets reported is all together. That's very hard to parse. We do it internally with our members.”
Apparently, internal reports, or at least financial accounting, did not reach the level of the 12 athletic directors as of earlier this year. Chris Hill, who retired as Utah’s athletic director last spring, applauded the Oregonian report for its details and said, “You’d be surprised how little we know about the numbers.”
In a radio interview with The Zone Sports Network, Hill weighed in on the conference. He said the cost of the rent and salaries paid to conference administrators jumped out at him.
“We all felt that we were spending too much money,” Hill said. “It just didn’t seem like it made any sense.”
Hill also said the relative failure of the conference-owned Pac-12 Network to gain enough distribution led to some schools spending money they did not have. Athletic administrators were led to believe the profits from the network would be greater than has been realized.
The idea of owning the network, which adds to increased costs, may have been well-intended but has not worked as expected.
It might be time to change course.
“I was behind it just like everybody else, so it’s not like you can project the future,” Hill said. “But as you look at now, does it make sense? If it doesn’t make sense, you look at it move on, rather than dig in your heels.”
At the least, with credibility at stake, Scott and his cohorts need to be more accountable to its members and fans.
“Transparency is a good thing,” said Hill. “If everything is open and the public can see it, you’re going to make better decisions.”