25 May 19
The Denver Post
Where Larry Scott goes, Phil DiStefano follows. Or vice versa, if the reports over the past few months are on the level. When the Pac-12 rearranges the deck chairs, as it did this past week with new men’s basketball scheduling rules and other mandates, it does so now with the blessing of DiStefano, Colorado’s chancellor who became chair of the Pac-12’s CEO group last year.
Given the tumult that’s shaken the Pac-12 since the autumn— from jaw-dropping reports on Scott’s spending habits to a league administrator overruling an officiating call in a critical football game — The Post met with DiStefano recently to get his thoughts on a number of topics, most notably:
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s job performance
“It’s been a rough time, you know. And he still has two, three more years on his contract (which was extended through 2022). As I’ve said, we’ll certainly take a (look) at that.
“Right now, the focus is with the Raine Group and our media rights, and what are some possibilities (there). Because I think we ought to be in a position in 2023 and 2024 when our contracts with ESPN and FOX run out, to be able to make the best deals possible.
“(He’s) very open to (more administrator involvement). He’s been very open to it. And again, it’s really getting Larry as a commissioner getting direction from the chancellors and presidents and I use the term — things have evolved in the Pac-12. And Larry’s been very open to looking at different ways of doing things. So I think it’s been very positive.”
Where the Pac-12 Network went wrong
“It’s hard to say. One is, five or six years ago, should we have sold a piece of the network? It probably would’ve been to an ESPN or a FOX at that time. Should we have done that? Maybe. Maybe not.
“But I look at where we are now, and given what has happened in the media in the last five to seven years, are we in a better position owning 100 percent of the network, so that we can really go out and look at creative options which, if we had made a (partnered) deal earlier, we might not have been able to do? I wish I had the answer.”
Closing the revenue gap on the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12
“It goes back to filling our stadiums. There are media rights (issues), but then what can we do as campuses? And how can we be much more entrepreneurial in making sure that (they generate revenue)?
“Obviously, if we’re winning, we’re going to get more people in the stadium — that’s going to produce more revenue. And there are other things we can do. For example, it’s not a bake sale, but we have summer concerts now in Folsom (Field) with the Grateful Dead (Dead & Company); I think they’re coming back for the third year or fourth year.
“And our facilities are (unique) there as far as opening them up to the public for wedding receptions, and other gatherings to get people on to campus. Obviously, each individual campus has to look at ways of increasing revenue. But as a conference, really, the revenue that comes in is from three sources: Our media deal; the NCAA basketball March Madness — and again, getting more teams in will help on that — and football and the College Football Playoff. So it’s those combinations.”
A Pac-12 executive overturning a call in last fall’s Washington State-USC game
“Well, I think the officiating has been an issue for the ADs for the last year — the last couple of years.
“(The call in the Wazzu-USC game) concerned us all, of having a staff member changing a call. But again, I think (when) issues come up, we look at them directly, figure out a way of fixing them and move on. And I think that’s what this external (officiating) consultant will help us with.”
Expectations for new CU football coach Mel Tucker:
“I think Mel said this when he visited and saw the facilities that we have, and where we live in Colorado, and he said, ‘I can recruit,’ and ‘I can recruit the best players (to come) here.’ And he’s obviously been at Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State.
“So he believes we can win championships. And so it’s all about recruiting. And he has the same values that (athletic director) Rick (George) and I have about bringing in young men with character who can be successful both in the classroom but also on the field. And he really talks about our football players as student-athletes. And Rick (stresses) this as well: Getting degrees, but competing. And I don’t think, if you do one, you can’t do the other, right? You can do them both.”
Initial impressions of Mel Tucker
“I called him the day he accepted the position and he said, ‘What do I call you?’ I said, ‘You can call me Phil, and I’ll call you Mel, how does that sound?’ And he said, ‘Great.’
“We have these ties — we’re both from Ohio. He’s worked under some of the best coaches in the country, both college and pro. And what I’ve been most impressed with is his willingness to go out and meet with alumni, friends of the university. In February, he and Rick and I did a trip to California, where of course we have many alumni in Southern California. And Mel was just great interacting with our alums and donors, parents, friends of the university. He’s very easy-going to talk with, has never said, ‘No.’
“We had a lunch at the Bel Air Country Club, one of our alums hosted us, and we had about 45-50 alums at the luncheon. And every one of them said, ‘Wow, he is so engaging.’ And they kept asking him questions and he stayed and wanted to know about them just as much as they wanted to know about him. And that shows how engaging he is with our alums. The feedback that I’m getting is extremely positive.”
Fixing Pac-12 football, men’s basketball
“(Slumps) are cyclical. Those are obviously the two sports that we talk about: men’s basketball and football. And I look at the coaches now around the Pac-12, including our new coach. And it’s not going to happen immediately. Washington has had the same coach (Chris Petersen) for a while. But you start looking at some of the new coaches coming in, including ours, and I do think you’re going to see it is cyclical.
“And with basketball, you know (the Buffs) had one senior this year that didn’t play. And we get our 7-footer back next year with Dallas (Walton) and we were one or two games away, in my mind, from being in the NCAA Tournament. And we showed up in the NIT. So I think there are other basketball teams doing the same thing — Oregon, for example. No one expected Oregon to do what it did in the NCAA Tournament.
“Everyone wants to win. And it’s about recruiting, and it’s about bringing in the best talent that can be successful. And I do believe it’s cyclical. And I do think we’ll see a change.”