Amid new laws targeting student athletes, upcoming media rights bidding, and changing media consumption patterns, college athletics once again faces new questions about the direction of its future and the relationship between universities and their athletes. Cynopsis Sports asked Larry Scott, Commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, about the conference’s approach and positioning on some of the issues, as well as the organization’s deepening ties with the city of Las Vegas.
Scott on Las Vegas: Creating the best possible experience for our student-athletes and our fans is the most important priority for our Pac-12 Championships. The quality of the city, the venue and our partners are all critical elements in creating a best-in-class sporting and entertainment experience. Las Vegas delivers unmatched entertainment options and is a destination city that is easy to reach from all of our Pac-12 markets and that our fans really enjoy. For our men’s and women’s Pac-12 basketball tournaments, the T-Mobile Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Center are fantastic venues, and our partners in MGM Resorts, Las Vegas Events and Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Center are leaders in delivering incredible experiences for sporting event attendees. For all of these reasons, the past few years in Las Vegas have set numerous attendance records for our men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and have made extending through 2022 for each an easy decision.
With our previously announced decision to bring our Pac-12 Football Championship to Las Vegas and the brand new Allegiant Stadium for 2020 and 2021, Las Vegas has truly become a home away from home for some of our most storied season-ending events.
On California’s “Fair Pay to Play Act”: I understand this is a difficult and important issue, and one that people disagree about passionately. I have been in close consultation with our university leaders and athletic directors, who share a commitment to student-athlete welfare that has made our Conference a leader in that area for many years. And as a former student-athlete myself, I firmly believe people on all sides of this debate are trying to do the right thing for student-athletes. The NCAA has been exploring whether change is possible in this area, and the Pac-12 is represented in that group. We expect a report from them later this month and while I don’t know what will be in it, I expect it will become an important piece of the overall national discussion on NIL. And we are actively working with our members and peers to explore possible solutions to the concerns that we have expressed about the new California law – solutions that would support our student-athletes while staying true to the college model in which education is a paramount part of the equation.
On his view of the bill’s impact: One thing is clear: This issue simply cannot be addressed on a state-by-state basis. I think we all know that just can’t work. In fact, it’s pretty clear from their remarks in the media that even many of the legislators who passed this California bill know that, and their intent was to send a message to the NCAA that they want change. I understand that. But the bill’s flaws go even deeper. Rather than a narrowly and carefully tailored effort to address this issue, it would effectively create a free-for-all in which large payments to a relative handful of star athletes from boosters and others could be thinly disguised as payment for the use of their name, image and likeness. In no time, recruitment in certain sports would become a cash-driven competition with essentially no limits on pay-to-play.
It was in that context that I made my previous remarks about the bill’s likely impact on women’s sports. With massive amounts of dollars redirected to paying people to play revenue sports like football and basketball, much less money would be available for other sports, and women’s and Olympic sports that are already vulnerable financially would likely bear the brunt of it. Our conference prides itself on the breadth of sports our schools offer for both men and women. It is my duty to protect the futures of those young people, who form the majority of our Pac-12 student-athletes, and for whom the current system provides scholarships, top coaching and facilities, and an exceptional education.
I think this is a point that bears emphasis – the current college model, for 98 to 99 out of 100 student-athletes, provides incredibly valuable benefits through a free education and access to best coaching, training and nutrition that allows them to graduate debt-free and better prepared for a successful professional career. And for that other 1-2%, I believe they can and should have options, including a pathway directly to the pros if the college education system is not of interest.
In the coming weeks and months, after the NCAA issues its report, there will be more opportunity to discuss in detail the many issues associated with compensation for name, image, and likeness, and the unintended consequences that would likely flow from permitting it. But for now, I just want to emphasize that while the new California law is certainly not the answer, as I said we are actively working with our members and peers to explore possible solutions that would support our student-athletes.
On media strategy: The process of exploring potential strategic media partners has generated great interest and attractive bids and valuations from a diverse group of some of the most respected media and technology companies investing in media rights. The Pac-12 continues to explore options that could provide important strategic value to our members, having recently made the decision to focus our conversations on those potential partners who we believe could add the most strategic value to our media rights and content. Whether or not we ultimately decide to move forward with a partner at this time or wait until our rights come up in 2024, we are optimistic about our future. This optimism stems from the interest displayed as we engaged in the process of exploring possibilities and because of the dynamic media rights environment, where many premium sports rights continue to rise in value and many new technology companies continue to enter.
FOX Sports reeled in 6.4 million viewers across its platforms for the Yankees’ win over the Astros in Saturday’s ALCS matchup, with nearly 6.1 viewers on FOX alone. Season-to-date, the company’s coverage of the 2019 MLS Postseason is averaging 3,155,000 viewers, for an uptick of 14% over last year’s postseason numbers.
Thursday Night Football continued to deliver for FOX, as last week’s game saw the Patriots’ win over the Giants seen by an average audience of 16.8 million across all platforms, including FOX, NFL Network, FOX Deportes, NFL digital, FOX Sports digital, Amazon Prime Video, Twitch and Yahoo Sports. That number is up 13% versus the 2018 11-game FOX Thursday Night Football average (14.9 million) and up 9% versus last year’s Week 6 Thursday Night Football matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. Season-to-date, the Thursday Night Football tri-cast is averaging 16.8 million viewers, up 14%.
FOX Sports also reports that this year’s Red River Showdown saw Oklahoma’s win over Texas reel in a 4.3 metered market rating, according to Nielsen, to rank as the top-rated college football game on Saturday. That score also marks FOX’s best metered market number this season.
Meanwhile, CBS Sports announced its SEC on CBS football game for Oct. 19 at 3:30p, picking up LSU/Mississippi State. Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and reporter Jamie Erdahl will call the contest from Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
As a result of weather issues on Sunday, NASCAR postponed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway until today, where it will run at 2p on NBCSN. Rick Allen will call the action alongside Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Steve Letarte will provide commentary from the Peacock Pit Box.
IMPACT Wrestling announced that its flagship weekly two-hour program IMPACT! will move to Tuesday nights at 8p on Fight Network in Canada and on its international feed, including Portugal and Greece, starting on Oct. 22. IMPACT! will also air on GameTV in Canada on Saturdays at 7p.