Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had already used realignment to expand the conference by two teams and secured an incredible television deal with ESPN, FOX and a conference network. Could his next big step be to reform college athletics and help the big conferences break away from the archaic NCAA?
Larry Scott is Batman.
The Pac-10 was once a lonely backwater filled with all sorts of dangerous folk that might have given you a stern lecture if you looked at them the wrong way. No one paid attention to the cries of the innocent; in fact no one paid much attention to the conference at all. The most recent leader of the conference was senile and absent. Many Pac-10 schools have been teetering with financial instability for much of the last half-decade, and have needed subsidies to stay afloat. The people who cared the most slowly lost hope that this situation would ever change, and trust eroded.*
(*This could also be a mish-mash of plots from Star Trek and Firefly episodes. Moving on.)
Scott swoop in and changed all that. In just about two years on the job, he's analyzed the problems that have plagued the conference for years and found the best possible way to solve them. He's revitalized the Conference of Champions when it looked like it was ready to sputter into oblivion.
He began his trailblazing path last spring by starting the expansion talks, devising a path toward an unprecedented sixteen team power conference. It was an amazing reach that could have turned the conference from weakest in the country to a virtual Premier League of college football. Although his grand plan of seating Texas at the table didn't come to pass (it was like convincing Ra's Al-Ghul to accept mortality), he added two new schools with solid foundations in both athletics and academics. If the Pac-12 wasn't the superpower that could move worlds, it was at least someone you didn't want to run through at night with grandmother's purse.
The Pac-12 provided a great springboard to the next step of wheeling and dealing by Scott, i.e. reformulating the television deals that have left the conference well behind its contemporaries. While inferior athletic conferences like the Big East and ACC thrived with the large piles of Benjamins television networks threw their way, the Pac-10 lingered in pointless isolation on regional networks, totally excluded from the national audience its athletes richly deserved. If you weren't on the West Coast (hell, if you didn't live a hundred miles from whereever you had your first kegger), the odds are you weren't going to get the football/basketball game you wanted.
That problem is now kaput. The Pac-12 TV deals with ESPN and FOX with regards to football and basketball in addition to the creation of Pac-12 Network will ensure that every football and men's basketball game gets covered, with the grand majority of them ending up being nationally televised. The commissioner has rounded up almost everything people mocked about the Pac-12 and cast it away to Arkham (where it will certainly get loose in a few months or so, but such is life in college sports).
But just like Batman, Scott's work is far from done.
People like SI's Stewart Mandel have started pointing toward Scott as being the major figure that could point the big conferences to finally band together and break away from the NCAA. Scott is the outsider, the person who sees everything a little bit quicker and sharper than the Delaney's and Beebe's of the world. Scott has indicated that he wants to be one of the reformers of college athletics, and there's no reason to think he can't make major headway where conventional figures have failed before. The man has the vision, it's up to others to listen and follow him.
There are so many things that need to be fixed with the NCAA, but the institution is moving at a glacial pace when the age demands mega-dynamic shifts. Its inability to face up and deal with the exploitation of the student-athlete (particularly in the revenue sports) in a rational manner has been downright shameful, and has opened the door to players being influenced or corrupted by the seediest of characters. Even Scott has to recognize these issues, as both Oregon and USC have been the face of recent PR calamities.
Most importantly, its solution to settling college football's champion runs counter to any principle of almost any other American sport, and has probably deprived institutions of millions of dollars in needed revenue. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated has suggested that big conference college football (which is pretty much the Leviathan that keeps the NCAA going) would be best served breaking off and forming its own body to ensure the best way to determine a champion, maximize revenue, and adequately compensate the athletes that make money for the schools. The proposal does seem like the kind of revolutionary proposal that Scott would embrace.
The NCAA needs more leaders like Scott, people who are able to craft their vision for the conference. It doesn't deserve him though, which is probably why they won't get him, and why they will probably lose their position of preeminece in the sport in the very near future. College sports might be in for revolutionary changes the next decade, and Scott could be leading the charge.
Watch out NCAA. The real-life Dark Knight is coming for you, and he might not stop until you're gone for good. And if that happens, just like Batman, Larry Scott might become more mythic figure than modern marvel.