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Sunday Morning Quarterback: Pac-12 Conference Must Be Fixed

There are serious problems with the Pac-12 Conference leadership that must be fixed moving forward.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Utah vs Washington
Larry Scott presented the Pac-12 Championship trophy to Washington head coach Chris Petersen Friday night.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few football seasons, it’s become abundantly clear that the Pac-12 Conference has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the Power 5 conferences. It gets no respect.

Well, if you read this week’s four-part series on the Pac-12 by John Canzano of the Oregonian/OregonLive, that should come as no surprise to you. To an extent, Canzano’s series rehashes a lot of the criticisms that have been leveled at the conference over the years. For instance, one part of the series looks at the Pac-12’s failure to strike a deal with DirecTV.

But, it also covers plenty of new ground including wondering aloud as to whether the conference is trying to pick winners and losers.

Particularly damning is the portrait the series shows of Woodie Dixon. Dixon is the league’s general counsel and senior vice-president of business affairs. He is also the head of football for the league. He is also the individual behind the recent Pac-12 officiating scandal.

For those who may not be familiar, on September 21, as Washington State was playing Southern Cal. Towards the end of the third quarter, Cougar linebacker Logan Tago was initially called for targeting Trojan QB JT Daniels. In-stadium replay officials had decided that targeting should be called. The Pac-12’s replay team in San Francisco had also decided that targeting should be called. But, then, Woodie Dixon, a man with no officiating experience overruled both the in-stadium crew and the San Francisco team with a phone call from home. As a result, targeting was not called.

Another potential targeting call later in the game against Southern Cal was also not called, but would have given the Cougars a first down and a chance to win or tie the game. But no call was made.

A full month later, the Pac-12 announced that it had disciplined “certain Pac-12 personnel responsible for the inadequate procedures and involved in the inappropriate influencing of the replay official’s decision in the USC vs. Washington State game.” The problem, of course, is the conference didn’t say who or what had happened. As Canzano points out, there was no transparency.

While that lack of transparency that is one of the things that results in the Pac-12 officials having a terrible reputation, it obviously isn’t the only thing that gives them their reputation. The on-field calls of conference officiating crews have certainly done enough damage on their own. But, it definitely doesn’t help improve the stature of rules enforcement in the conference either.

The series also offers an eye-opening look at the lavish expenditures by conference commissioner Larry Scott. If you’ve been around for a while you may remember that under Tom Hansen, the Pac-12 offices were located in Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek is a suburb located in Contra Costa County.

But, under Scott, the league offices were moved to San Francisco, where the Pac-12 pays more than $6.9 million in rent last year. By comparison, Canzano mentions what the SEC and Big Ten pay in rent for their headquarters and the numbers make the Pac-12 figure mind-numbing. The SEC pays just $318,000 per year and the Big Ten with offices in Chicago and New York pays $1.5 million.

Canzano doesn’t stop there. He also notes how much Scott and other league officials are getting paid and compares them to their counterparts at the other conferences. Canzaro writes:

Scott is also paid more than Greg Sankey, the Southeastern Conference commissioner, who makes $1.9 million a year by comparison. Also, Scott makes more than Jim Delany, the Big Ten Conference commissioner, who brings home $2.4 million a year.

How much more does Scott make? He made $4.8 million last year. That’s more than Sankey and Delany combined. For that kind of money, Scott should be making sure that the Pac-12 football champion is in the College Football Playoff every single year, not missing three of five years as is now the case.

Canzano also takes Scott to task for turning the Pac-12 offices into a de facto member of the conference. He writes:

[T]he conference has done one thing exceptionally well inside that 113,000 square feet of office space - the Pac-12 offices have treated itself like the 13th and most important member.

The series also serves as an indictment of the Pac-12 CEO Group. That’s the group of university presidents and chancellors who head up each of the schools in the conference. And, wouldn’t you know it? Canzano quietly places much of the blame on three of the conference leaders — ASU’s Michael Crow, Oregon State’s Ed Crow and, yup, you guessed it, UCLA’s Gene Block. Canzaro quotes an unnamed former Pac-12 athletic director:

[Scott] couldn’t care less about the athletic directors. His allegiance is to the three big shots - Michael Crow (ASU), Ed Ray (Oregon State) and Gene Block (UCLA).

Given what Bruin fans know about Gene Block’s administration of UCLA Athletics, reading something like this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I can imagine that Gene Block probably sits in Pac-12 meetings and offers opinions like “Larry Scott is a good financial manager for the conference.” Of course, that’s only a guess, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit.

In whole, Canzaro’s series should be read by every athletic donor to every Pac-12 school. Why? Because Larry Scott’s supposed management of the conference has left many of the schools pinching pennies and, of course, that means asking donors for more money.

I’ve frequently heard about how the Pac-12 Network money has never materialized. Of course, the usual excuse for that is because of the conference’s inability to strike a deal with DirecTV. Maybe, just maybe, it has a little to do with the fact that the conference is paying outrageous salaries to their top leadership and a king’s ransom in rent every month.

Maybe the Pac-12 isn’t distributing as much money to its member schools because it’s paying for things like a corporate jet for Larry Scott.

Maybe Pac-12 schools aren’t seeing the windfall they were promised because the Pac-12 is just flat-out spending too much money.

And, maybe it’s about time that the Pac-12 CEO Group do something about it like firing Larry Scott and moving the conference offices somewhere that is more affordable because the conference doesn’t need to be located in the one city in the conference with the highest rents of anywhere else in the Pac-12 footprint.

Dan and Gene, it’s time for you to fix this mess.

Go Bruins!