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Originally published Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

New Pac-10 commish discusses TV deals and East-coast bias

Larry Scott is the new commissioner of the Pac-10 but he guesses he hasn't attended a college football game since before 1997.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

LOS ANGELES — The first thing you notice about Larry Scott, the new commissioner of the Pac-10, is that he bears more than a passing resemblance to Jim Delany, his counterpart in the Big Ten.

Antsy fans on the West Coast wouldn't mind being able to extrapolate that similarity to their achievements, since Delany is one of college sports' power brokers, a guy who engineered a 25-year, $2.8-billion deal to christen a Big Ten TV sports network.

Nor would they argue if Scott became a facsimile of the Southeastern Conference's Mike Slive, who has positioned the SEC for a 15-year, $3 billion hookup with ESPN and CBS.

No chance, you say? Well, Scott, in a sit-down with a handful of West Coast writers here Wednesday, touched upon some forward-thinking notions of how to splash the conference into craniums heretofore unexplored. That includes the idea of shrugging off the fixation over East Coast bias and promoting the league's "West Coast advantage" in places like Beijing and Shanghai.

Out of the box? He's more like out of the boxcar. Every perception you might attach to a big-time college commissioner, forget it. Graduated from Harvard, played tennis there, lived in London for seven years not long ago, and when I pressed him on the issue, guessed he hadn't attended a college football game since before 1997.

That was Harvard-Yale, by the way.

But he got hired by the Pac-10 presidents because he's different. He succeeds Tom Hansen, commish the past quarter-century, because he showed a lot of marketing expertise and moxie as CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, for whom he signed a six-year, $88-million deal with Sony Ericsson four years ago.

Said Scott, "In particular, my background in television and marketing, in taking a sports property that was already great, marshaling resources, thinking outside the box, getting everybody rolling in the same direction ... I think that was the attraction I had for the presidents and chancellors."

He gave props to Hansen, who retired at 71 in June, but also hinted he might operate differently. Referring to his research on the league, he said, "I was a bit overwhelmed by sort of a consistent sense that the Pac-10 has untapped potential."

This won't just happen, of course. Hansen wasn't exactly Gomer Pyle when it came to TV deals. That was a key part of his background when he worked for the NCAA before arriving at the Pac-10.

The Pac-10's deals with ABC, ESPN and Fox run for three more years, through 2012.

"This whole TV discussion is going to be as important a strategic and business issue as I deal with in my career at the Pac-10," Scott said. "Whatever we decide is going to be a 15-, 20-, 25-year deal."

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That's for later. Right now, while Scott climbs a steep learning curve, he notes that UCLA has 70 merchandise stores in China and says, "the Pac-10 has a unique advantage in looking beyond the confines of the U.S. I'm not exactly sure how this might manifest itself, but I could certain envision a time when our basketball, volleyball, Olympic sports teams are traveling and participating in sports over there. There's a television and sponsorship market for Pac-10 sports."

Scott wants to plumb the possibilities of digital media; says the Pac-10 is fine with the BCS structure (it's in place until 2014, anyway); thinks the bowl lineup will largely stay the same in new contracts beginning next year (although the Alamo Bowl has interest in being part of it); and is right now more occupied with maximizing the agreement with Fox than discussing whether Staples Center should continue to stage the league basketball tournament, which it has through 2012.

He's open to mirroring Delany in working up a Pac-10 Network, but "not as an end unto itself."

If some of that sounds less than dynamic, realize that a lot of things, he can't immediately change, and he shouldn't unless he gets up to speed on the intricacies of college athletics, anyway.

He has hung out at UCLA and USC and says he'll visit each Pac-10 campus within 45 days to meet with presidents, athletic directors and coaches.

At all of them, he'll find resourceful folks dogged by economic worries. The conference hopes it just found the right guy to address them.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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