Most hirings in sports tend to operate on the Rule of the Opposite. For better or worse, whatever traits that led you to sour on your outgoing coach or AD send you running in the opposite direction for their replacement.
If any job search figured to qualify for the Rule of the Opposite, you’d think it’d be the Pac-12’s ongoing search for its next commissioner, where Larry Scott is on his way out after 12 years running the league. The conference took a big swing in hiring the former commissioner of the Women’s Tennis Association, where his lack of college sports experience was viewed as a plus upon his 2009 hiring. A league that suffered from small-time thinking would suddenly push its brand on a global scale, and Scott was a proven media rights negotiator who would send revenues sky high.
Scott did deliver record revenues, but those records were quickly smashed and surpassed by rival conferences; the Pac-12 Networks gamble was a bust; and, most sinfully, Scott never seemed to embrace football’s place at the top of the totem pole. It doesn’t matter how many people in China are watching your tennis matches if the Eastern three-fourths of the nation ignored your football product.
From the outside looking in, the prescription seemed to be obvious (which is not to be confused with easy): fix football, and everything else will take care of yourself.
Want to catch up with the Big Ten, the SEC, et. al? Fix football.
Want to figure out what in the heck to do with the Pac-12 Networks? Fix football.
Want to push your brand nationally? Fix football.
To its credit and its detriment, the Pac-12 has taken pride in treating football as just one of its sports. In the Pac-12, football is just one of the piglets sucking at mama pig’s teat, while everywhere is football is the mama pig. (To be clear, I’m talking about how the sport is viewed by the conference’s presidents, not by the people working within the football programs.)
It’s never dawned on Pac-12 presidents that the SEC’s rise in Olympic sports — the league is a power in softball and won its first volleyball national title over the weekend — because of football, not in spite of football. The relationship between football and the rest of the athletics department is symbiotic, not oppositional.
You would think, after its last few years, Pac-12 presidents would realize this better than anyone. You would think.
In a report Tuesday, Jon Wilner writes for the San Jose Mercury-News that conference CEOs are thinking about replacing Larry Scott with Larry Scott 2.0. According to Wilner, the conference is interested in Amy Brooks to be its next commissioner. Never heard of her? That’s because she’s currently the NBA’s president for business operations and Chief Innovation Officer.
Brooks has never worked in college sports and has no background in football operations. Her expertise is on the business side: Prior to joining the NBA, she worked for Bain and Co., the global management consulting company.
The presidents and chancellors are deeply interested in hiring someone from the sports business world who can maximize revenue opportunities, starting with the media rights negotiations that are expected to begin in 18-to-24 months.
To their credit (maybe?), Pac-12 leadership recognizes it needs someone who can act at the behest of ADs and who has a background in college athletics. After all, this is why names like Alabama AD Greg Byrne, Ohio State AD Gene Smith and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby — all three former Pac-12 ADs — were originally floated as possible targets back when the job first came open.
To fill that role, Pac-12 presidents are reportedly hiring a co-commissioner who would work in concert with Brooks. While Brooks (or a candidate like her) would serve as CEO and the co-commissioner would be the COO, representing the needs of the 12 campuses inside the league’s San Francisco headquarters — something that apparently did not happen under Scott’s watch.
But what would happen when push inevitably met shove? Whose needs would win out: sports (especially football) or business? Whose arguments carry the most favor with the CEO, the presidents or the ADs?
It’s possible someone leaked this story as a means of killing it, knowing full well how it would go over outside Pac-12 CEO conference calls. But knowing what we do about how the Pac-12’s presidents operate — about how they view themselves, their schools and their place in college athletics — its entirely possible they want to hire someone to win the upcoming football TV negotiations first and take care of everything else second, completely oblivious to the reality they have it backwards.