Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s leadership can often seem out of touch.
The $5.4 million man still has the conference headquartered in downtown San Francisco, one of the most expensive locations in the world to rent office space, as the Pac-12 Network struggles with distribution eight years after its launch.
The football instant-replay controversy and poor performances by the conference in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament in 2018 led to a desperate decision by the Pac-12 and the Los Angeles Times to form a "media partnership" to shift the narrative, according to a report by the Oregonian.
The Pac-12 announced last month that it generated $530 million in total revenues (a 7% increase) and distributed $32.2 million to each of its 12 member institutions (a 9% increase) during the 2018-19 fiscal year.
That reads like one of the positive headlines Scott was seeking.
In reality, the Pac-12 CEO Group, chaired by University of Oregon president Michael Schill, sees the financial gulf between the conference and its Power Five peers continuing to widen.
The 14-team Big Ten received $56 million per school, the 14-team SEC received $45 million per school and the 10-team Big 12 received between $38 and $42 million per school.
Now Pac-12 athletic departments are facing massive deficits due to the ongoing pandemic.
But at least when it comes to this health crisis, Scott is knowledgeable about the impact of COVID-19. The commissioner is entering the revised plan for the conference to play football with his "eyes wide open" to the challenges after testing positive for the coronavirus last month.
While unveiling the Pac-12’s 10-game, conference-only plan for a season, Scott acknowledged that outbreaks among teams are likely.
"We’re going in expecting that’s a real possibility," Scott said during a webinar with the media. "If that happens, especially with 14-day quarantine periods currently for anyone that’s a close contact, that will require the rescheduling of a game."
The new Pac-12 schedule allows for postponed games to be moved to a bye week or the end of the regular season.
Oregon opens play Sept. 26 against Colorado at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks will have a bye after playing rival Oregon State on Oct. 17 in Corvallis.
A postponed game could also be played Dec. 12, but the Pac-12 plans to wrap up its schedule with a conference championship game no later than Dec. 18 or 19.
"We may not get 10 games in," Scott said. "We are hopeful and cautiously optimistic that we will. That’s the plan. But if we’re not able to, we may end up with certain teams playing less than 10 games when we still try to finish on December 19th."
So how many positive tests within one program would force a postponement? What if an entire position group is quarantined at the same time?
There are no easy answers for navigating through a football season in 2020.
"That is a topic that we as a medical advisory group are trying to come up with some very specific criteria and benchmarks for," said Dr. Doug Aukerman, Oregon State senior associate athletic director for sports medicine. "So that when we get to the point where we’re ready to start the season and that occurs we already have a decision pre-made to try and help guide those decisions."
Major League Baseball, which has started its season without fans but with teams traveling around the country, had 17 games postponed in 10 days due to positive coronavirus tests entering Saturday’s action.
The NBA and WNBA, which are both playing inside league-funded bubbles in Florida, have not been interrupted since returning to isolated courts.
Even without admitting spectators, steering through the fall seasons — the Pac-12 plans for cross country, soccer, volleyball and other non-revenue sports to also begin Sept. 26 — will be more challenging at the collegiate level.
"There is no bubble and a bubble would not be appropriate in college sports and for our campuses," Scott said. "These are students and they’re not going to be able to be quarantined or isolated in a bubble the same way pro sports do.
"We recognize that and it’s one of the reasons we go into this with a lot of humility … recognizing we’ve got a plan, we’re going to follow medical guidance along the way, but we’re going to have to monitor how things are going."
A common refrain among Scott, athletic directors, coaches and medical staff is that all decisions are made in the interest of "the health and safety of the student-athletes."
But the bottom line is the conference and its athletic departments need some version of a football season to avoid a financial catastrophe.
The Pac-12 received $351,347,633 in television rights fees during the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to the conference’s 990 tax filings.
"If we can present it (on television) safely without fans or with limited fans, our intent is to do that," Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said. "It is important to the revenues, there is no question about that."
Pac-12 athletes who choose not to play sports this fall over concerns related to COVID-19 will still have their scholarships honored.
A handful of NFL players, including former Oregon stars De’Anthony Thomas (Baltimore Ravens) and Patrick Chung (New England Patriots), have opted out of their professional seasons.
Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, a potential first-round pick in the 2021 draft, is the first high-profile college player to announce he will sit out the 2020 season.
"This is hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime situation that we’re trying to find our way through," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "And those who are not comfortable, we completely understand if they do not want to participate. There’s no punishment from any of us. We get it. We’ll try to provide them the support that they need to get them through this situation."
According to an ESPN report on Saturday, a group of Pac-12 players from multiple schools, including Oregon, are threatening to opt out of fall camp and games unless they receive a signed contract from the conference regarding demands addressing their concerns about racial injustice, fair compensation and safety during the pandemic.
The Pac-12 released the following statement:
"Neither the conference nor our university athletics departments have been contacted by this group regarding these topics. We support our student-athletes using their voice, and have regular communications with our student-athletes at many different levels on a range of topics.
"As we have clearly stated with respect to our fall competition plans, we are, and always will be, directed by medical experts, with the health, safety and well being of our student athletes, coaches and staff always the first priority. We have made it clear that any student athlete who chooses not to return to competition for health or safety reasons will have their scholarship protected."
Contact reporter Ryan Thorburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-338-2330, and follow him on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn and Instagram @rg_ducksports. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.