Over the past few years, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott has pioneered various proposals to reform the student-athlete experience and has been at the forefront of the operations that now include the other four power conferences: the SEC, the ACC, the Big 10 and the Big 12.
Prior to the Colorado win over Arizona Wednesday night, Scott began his conference-wide tour with University of Colorado athletes from each sport to hear about their struggles with college athletics and offer suggestions on how he plans to improve their situations, with time demands at the top of that list.
“This is the first of what will be 12 visits over the next few months, and I was able to coordinate it with being here for the basketball game tonight,” Scott said. “It’s my first Colorado basketball game that I’ve been to an event here. Promised Tad (Boyle) and Rick (George) I’d be at an event as soon as I could, so I’m glad to be here and see it, see the experience and I know we’ve got great crowds here.”
In August of 2014, the NCAA approved a new autonomy structure allowing each of the power five conferences, including the Pac-12, to adopt legislation specific to their members, dependent upon the area of interest.
“A very high priority for the conference has been on student-athlete welfare, looking at the whole student experience,” Scott said. “And really, since 2014, our presidents and chancellors have been leaders nationally in kind of calling for reform. We’ve been fortunate that since then, the top five conferences have, now, autonomy. It’s part of the NCAA governance process.”
As the first and only conference to directly include student-athletes in the discussion for reform, the Pac-12 and Scott are not only changing to discourse of NCAA politics, but are setting the stage for future negotiations in and around college athletics nationwide.
“I think we’re the only one at this point. We just enacted (student voting) this year, and it’s something we’re all really proud of,” Scott said. “So it was great to see our student-athletes sitting side by side with our athletics directors, senior women administrators, faculty reps at our October meetings, and I can tell you right from the first meeting it was obvious the conversation was much more robust and contextual with real life examples. It made our discussions and our decisions that much better.”
To athletes like senior track and cross country runner Connor Winter, Scott’s efforts and student-inclusion make all the difference.
“It’s really encouraging to see him here, and then the way he is able to accomplish things in that we are the forefront of what he’s interested in,” Winter said. “He’s not interested in making a ton of money; he’s interested in really taking care of the student-athletes and having our best interest in mind. And so, actions speak a lot louder than words.”
Some of the main concerns that the conference has already addressed includes allowing schools to cover the full cost of attendance, more medical benefits, guaranteeing scholarships and having scholarship money available for students who want to come back and finish their degrees.
But as one can imagine, being a student-athlete is a serious time commitment that can take away from athletes’ academic and social lives. Scaling back those time demands, Scott said, has become a main priority of his efforts to improve their time in college athletics.
“We intend to be the forefront of looking at policy changes in this regard,” Scott said of the Pac-12 conference. “At the recent autonomy session around the NCAA convention, we proposed a couple of legislative items around two weeks off after every season, around a contiguous eight hours every night with no athletically-related activity. Over the next year we’re going to be working with other conferences on other areas that we think ensure that student-athletes have balance.”
The chief purpose of the proposed legislation, Scott said, was to ensure that these student-athletes make the most of the resources available to them to set themselves up for success after sports.
“That’s what our schools really take a lot of pride in, that you could be at the top echelon of amateur athletics and maybe even go on to the next level, but also set yourself up for success in life professionally afterward at the same time. We want to make sure our student-athletes don’t have to compromise,” he said.
The actions needed to make these necessary changes, however, are easier said than done, as each sport is unique.
“It’s really tough. It’s really tough,” Scott said. “Every sport’s a little bit different—their rigors, demands of every sport, the culture of sports are different. Some are more year-round, some are seasonal. So it is very nuanced, and it’s one of the reasons that I felt to get out of the conference office and to visit each campus and meet — you know, we had 15 athletes in there representing at least ten different sports, and that was great, to hear about how each sport’s a little different.
“What we have found is very nuanced, a lot of these issues. Every sport’s a little different, different student athletes have different perspectives and have kind of given your impressions on the topic (gestures to Winter) and the value of what we just did.”
Now that the power five conferences have held two autonomy sessions in the past 14 months to work out the issue, some of the other conferences are starting to follow suit with the ideas that Scott and the Pac-12 first initiated.
“Well I think all the conferences are taking this issue seriously,” Scott said. “I think we were a little bit further out in front in terms of coming with specific proposals as the Big Ten was the only other conference that had made a proposal at the January autonomy session. But I thought it was a wakeup call for everyone. I think the other conferences are taking it much more seriously. What process each conference will go through, I’m not exactly sure, but everyone’s taking it pretty seriously.”
Scott has a long road ahead of him as he continues to embrace the role of pioneering the changes he wants to see made not only within the Pac-12, but among conferences all over the nation.
“Between now and mid-April, I’m going to visit all 12 campuses and I’m going to get a lot of great input,” he said. “And our challenge will be kind of how do you take all the feedback? Because even just today, very nuanced, a lot of different very specific examples of specific sports and their situations.
“How do we aggregate that and put forth proposals to other conferences? How do you synthesize the feedback, organize it and try to prioritize is really, I think, the management and leadership challenge here. And how do you other conferences to kind of see it the same way and come along? So that’s kind of part of the art form and the leadership diplomacy that’s required to kind of change in a complex structure like we have.”
For a full list of the Pac-12’s proposed areas of reform, you can read the details here.