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We’d like to think the CU football equipment truck was the last straw. That forcing the Buffs to load up a semi and drive it to Flagstaff and back for a game that never even happened was the bad boy that finally broke the camel’s back.
Then again, when it comes to Larry Scott and fatal straws, take your pick.
Limousine Larry will miss the Buffs more than the Buffs will miss him. The soon-to-be-former Pac-12 commissioner made CU athletics very rich, which was groovy, then very invisible, which was not.
The announcement late Wednesday that the Pac-12 CEO group and Scott were breaking up after 11 years of a failing marriage was the kind of divorce you saw coming for miles. One of the oldest and most storied athletic collectives in the country has become a punch line, nationally. Its bureaucratic bungles read like something out of a script from the American version of “The Office,” Dunder Mifflin West, only with Larry Scott as its Michael Scott, hapless to the last.
Some of this stuff, you just couldn’t make up. The suites. The chartered flights. The swanky San Fran HQ. The videos. The officiating messes. The layoffs. The bonuses that preceded the layoffs. The network.
Really, though, the divorce was mainly about the network.
The Buffs’ last decade had been a boon, financially, at least until COVID rolled in like a dust storm and killed half the money trees. Scott rescued CU out of the imploding Big 12 in 2010 and onto a lifeboat of champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
The Pac-12 Network, he’d promised university presidents and athletic directors, was the pathway to gold, television eyeballs, and enough five-star recruits to leave Nick Saban searing with envy.
You know the rest. Larry got the gold. Saban kept getting the five-stars. Everyone else got the shaft.
Network independence — launching the conference network without a broadcasting heavy such as Disney or FOX to force carriers’ hands — has been an unmitigated disaster. Nobody could watch CU football. When nobody can watch you, no one wants to play for you.
Scott had a vision. We’ll give him that. Without Scott wanting to bring the Front Range into his purview, CU might still be stuck in losing football battles with Oklahoma and losing political battles with Texas.
Although it says a lot about Limo Larry that many Buffs fans over 35 would actually prefer life in the Big 12 right about now. Scott had too much of a free hand too early in his tenure, and it wound up costing the Pac-12 dearly.
“I appreciate Larry’s innovative approach, which helped bring about CU Boulder’s move to the Pac-12 Conference and set the league up at the time with a lucrative new television deal,” Buffs chancellor Phil DiStefano said via a statement released Thursday by the university. “He also provided admirable leadership in guiding the conference through the pandemic.
“Looking forward, we’ll want our next commissioner to focus on our blend of strengths that includes high academic achievement, competitiveness on the fields of play and diversity of our people and markets.”
The Pac-12’s next guy — or gal — doesn’t have to be a home run. But they’ve got to hit a ringing double off the wall, if not a triple in the gap. The pandemic has cost conference athletic departments anywhere from $30 million to $65 million already this fiscal year, according to estimates by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, and that was with trying to milk seven weeks of football to try and feed the television beast, providing $200 million in revenues the league didn’t have to refund back to its broadcast partners.
The Pac-12 needs someone with collegiate administrative roots (which Scott lacked); campus perspective and sympathies (he lacked those, too); a big Rolodex; and television nous.
The Pac-12’s current TV rights deals all expire after the 2023-24 academic year, and they can’t afford to get the next one wrong. Not anymore.
The last decade left the league a wounded animal, on several fronts. Men’s basketball is interesting but benign nationally, at least until UCLA and coach Mick Cronin fully shake off the remains of the Steve Alford Era. While the outlook is kinder on the women’s hoops front, COVID-19 has laid siege to baseball and to the Olympic sports on which a warm-weather conference built decades of street cred.
But football pulls the sled. And the Pac-12 hasn’t sniffed the mega millions of the College Football Playoff since 2016. Again, those five-stars want to go where they can be watched. By everybody.
The conference needs somebody who gets it. Buffs AD Rick George is one of those somebodies, and while he bleeds CU gold, George’s experience with Major League Baseball and the PGA has already placed him on speculative shortlists.
COVID-19 wasn’t Scott’s fault. It only underscored the wounds that had already been festering for years. To the league’s credit, the pandemic was generally treated with the caution and consideration it deserved.
But in the same breath, painting yourself into a corner upon which the best two teams in the South division last fall — USC and Colorado — never played, then forcing the Buffs to drive an equipment truck across the desert for a contest that might or might not happen in Los Angeles (it didn’t) was the epitome of farcical.
Big-time leagues don’t do that. Big-time commissioners don’t do that.
So maybe that CU semi proved a fitting enough coda after all. That and Scott’s response back on Dec. 17, when asked by yours truly who was going to wind up paying for the trip:
“In terms of specifics about the truck, that’s made by our operations people with (the school) in terms of the practicalities,” the commissioner replied. “I’m not really up to speed on the details of that. Or who’s paying for what.”
Again, you couldn’t make this stuff up. Not if you tried. The pairing of Scott and Ralphie promised a road paved with good intentions. Only it turned right at Albuquerque and, like that equipment truck, went absolutely nowhere.