Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big Ten Jim Delany sat down for a moderated television special that aired on the Pac-12 Networks over the Memorial Day Weekend. The two commissioners were in San Francisco earlier in the week to promote the upcoming San Francisco Bowl that will be held at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. The San Francisco Bowl will annually feature the fourth seeded Pac-12 team against a Big Ten opponent. The conversation was moderated by the 49ers play-by-play radio announcer Ted Robinson.
The two commissioners share nearly 30 years of experience overseeing their respective conferences. Delany, who took over the Big Ten in 1989, owns 25 of those years. He was the more candid and outspoken of the commissioners throughout the interview. Scott tended to be more diplomatic reminding the audience of the progress the Pac-12 has made since he took office with several mandates from the conference's presidents.
The discussion didn't render much news or any surprises, but here is a summary of some of the things that were discussed:
COLLEGE FOOTBALL POSTSEASON, ROSE BOWL
Both commissioners expressed contentment over the fact that they were able to keep the traditional Rose Bowl matchup between a Pac-12 school and a Big Ten school two out of every three years. The Rose Bowl will be the site of a College Football Playoff semifinal game in the third year.
Robinson asked the commissioners what the likelihood was of the CFP expanding beyond its current four-team format. Delany sharply replied that he shouldn't get his hopes for at least "another twelve years." He stated that the CFP should put pressure on schools to improve the quality of opponents on their schedule and play more conference games since strength of schedule will be a strong tiebreaker to differentiate between teams of similar records. "We really want to reward those teams that put it on the line and play tough schedules," said Delany.
MAJOR CONFERENCE AUTONOMY, UNIONS, STIPENDS
Scott displayed diplomacy at its finest when asked about the recent letter sent by the presidents of his conference to the presidents of the other four major conferences. He chose to only mention the academic aspects of the proposed changes. Scott stated that the pursuit of autonomy was about "giving our five conferences the flexibility to support student-athletes" in terms of balancing their academic loads with their athletic duties. He didn't seem quite as interested on the impact that it might have on schools from non-major conferences.
Since the recent push towards unionization was spearheaded by a Big Ten school, Delany was asked what he thought of grievances filed by Kain Colter and the other Northwestern players. "I can't argue with any of the substantive ideas," stated Delany even though he obviously is not a proponent of unionization. With the market-driven growth of college sports, he feels there is a need for "returning balance to the enterprise" meaning athletes should benefit more from the revenues they help generate."Students should receive what it costs to go to college. Anything more than that constitutes pay for play," said Delany. Both commissioners recognized that the cost of going to different schools varies and that stipends would have to vary accordingly.
Time zone differences put a little extra pressure on the Pac-12 that isn't much of a factor for the Big Ten to schedule late night games. Scott noted the pressure to play late games to fill late spots places some strain schools hosting the events. He stated that there is an ongoing effort to cutback on the extra late starts.
The commissioners were asked by an audience member about the quality of games being played on the actual conference networks. Scott stated that under the current Pac-12 deal there is a draft system in which ESPN and FOX get first picks. However, he did note that in a few select weeks the Pac-12 Networks do get the first pick to balance things out a little. Delany refused to comment on the issue indicating this would be taken up in the pending negotiations the Big Ten has with the major networks in the coming year.
ONE AND DONE, PRO SPORTS
Delany was very opinionated when asked about the relationship the NCAA has with professional sports organizations. "I resent the idea that college football and college football is the exclusive way for someone to become a pro athlete because I don’t think that’s our rightful role," said Delany. He felt that the freshman ineligibility rule would be one way to curtail athletes using college sports solely as a stepping stone to go pro and expressed frustration that the NCAA was left out of conversations between owners and players unions when it came to determining draft eligibility.
Delany applauded the baseball model that allows for a player to turn pro immediately after high school if they wish, but forces a commitment to remain in school if a player decides to go the college route. He stated that the NFL and NBA need to develop minor leagues or other pathways to develop rather than relying on athletes to attend college for a short time before turning pro.
The biggest takeaway from the discussion is how big college sports have become and the role that television has played in making this happen. It is clear that this increased revenue has reached everybody except for the student-athletes. The only thing that has come the way of the athletes in an era of increased revenue is increased pressure to perform.The schools have greater incentive than ever to field successful athletic programs. They are passing this incentive on to the coaches receiving huge salaries to oversee success on the playing field. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to players making plays and making the success possible.
Some athletes have a strong incentive to do well with the possibility of turning pro and their entire experience as a student athlete is predicated on meeting the requirements to go to the next level as soon as they can. The vast majority do need to have their financial and educational needs met since their education is the reward for their efforts and what they need to be successful further in life.
The presidents and commissioners do seem intent on restoring some balance between athletics and academics. But's it's difficult for me not to be a little bit cynical. The push for autonomy and the growing revenue will continue to amp up the incentive to win. So while there is some increasing focus on emphasizing academics, the balancing act is likely to be a lot easier said than done.