Commissioner Larry Scott took the podium to open Pac-12 Media Days at Warner Bros. Studios on Thursday giving a "state of the conference" speech discussing topics that included officiating, scheduling, scholarships and everything in-between.
Progress was a popular motif throughout Scott's speech. "The last 18 months will be remembered as one of the most transformative periods in the history of college athletics," said Scott. "The national dialogue about changes to the collegiate experience has been extremely healthy for college athletics."
Taking Care of Athletes
"At the root of what we've done to offer the last 18 months and what we'll continue over the next hundred years is reaffirm our commitment to student-athletes."
A key part of the commitment Scott was talking about included how this season—and beyond—players will receive guaranteed four-year scholarships and schools will provide assistance for players who return in pursuit of their degrees. Scott also said that even players who are injured while playing sports will be entitled to proper medical treatment, even once they are no longer enrolled in school.
In fact, Scott explained that the Pac-12 will be committing $3.5 million to medical research, particularly research of head trauma and mental illness, along with other health and safety issues. In wake of the national football sphere becoming more focused on preventing head injuries from occurring, Scott announced that the Pac-12 will be adding in-stadium spotters in order to "better identify head trauma in real time."
The conference is also making sure to improve fan interaction this season.
"For the first time this year, with the help of new technology, fans in our stadiums will watch replay reviews on the video board as our officiating crews are reviewing the plays in their booth."
Scott says the conference "is committed to developing new ways to engage with fans." However, the engagement isn't limited to the in-stadium experience; the conference has a goal of expanding globally, too.
Regular-season men's basketball game to be played between Washington and Texas on Nov. 14 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.
— Kaelen Jones (@kaelenjones) July 30, 2015
The willingness to expand the Pac-12 brand comes as no surprise. On Friday, Pac-12 Networks president Lydia Murphy-Stephans explained that there was significant growth in Pac-12 viewership in 2014.
She says that fan engagement with the Pac-12 Network grew by 600 percent (TV, online, application)
— Kaelen Jones (@kaelenjones) July 31, 2015
A major talking point that was addressed by Scott concerned the steps the conference has taken to make improvements in officiating. #Pac12Officials and/or #Pac12refs (however you'd like to address them as) were the butt of plenty of social media jokes throughout the year as a result of what would be considered to be comically questionable calls. Nine of the 25-most penalized teams of the 2014 season resided in the Pac-12. Scott made an attempt at saving face by disputing the high number of penalties came as a result of the speedy pace offenses within the conference tend to play at.
"There is a certain style of play in the Pac-12 that's led itself to certain types of penalties, holding and others. And that is the very open, fast-paced, multiple plays, lot of throwing plays types of offense a lot of our teams are known for. ... There is a direct correlation between the number of offensive plays that you run and the number of penalties."
Regardless, in order to avoid its officiating crew coming under scrutiny and nonetheless being considered a laughing stock by the masses, the Pac-12 hired former NFL director of officiating David Coleman as the conference's head of officiating.
Focus of P12 officiating moving forward per Coleman: consistency, accountability, communications, transparency.
— Kaelen Jones (@kaelenjones) July 31, 2015
The conference will even implement an eighth official to gameday crews that will serve as a center judge, so it's safe to assume that the Pac-12 is at the very least seeking to rid itself of being associated with underwhelming officiating performances.
"Importantly, once again, the Pac-12 will have the toughest schedule in all of college football. ... I think it's safe to say our teams will earn their status on the field. Simply put, no one will have a tougher road to the playoffs than the Pac-12 Champion."
The Pac-12 was named by ESPN as the No. 1 conference in college football this year. Scott boasted that the conference remains the only one whose teams play nine conference games and a conference championship game. With the talent within the conference, Scott said that he believes the perception lag and perception gap are beginning to shift in favor of the Pac-12 as the conference begins to gain recognition.
"I definitely see us making a lot of progress and there being a much greater recognition and respect being shown nationally to the Pac-12."
One thing is for sure—the Pac-12 is holding itself to a very high standard both on and off the field, and Scott did a wonderful job selling the idea that the conference is up to the challenge of meeting such high expectations in every facet imaginable.
Click here to read the full transcript of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott's speech at Pac-12 Media Days.