Tom Hansen, of “worst commissioner in the country” fame, is going to retire from his post at the top of the Pac-10 at the end of next year. I could not be more ecstatic that the conference can finally now move out of the early ’80s and enter the 21st century with the rest of the BCS.
Hansen takes a lot of pot shots for a lot of things — most notably the hideous television contracts for football and basketball — and almost all of that criticism is fair. But don’t tell him that. In his mind, he’s merely carrying out the wishes of the institution presidents who sign his paycheck.
For example …
“Hansen said ESPN has never really been a viable option ‘because they have never had available time slots because of their other commitments that would fit our scheduling patterns. And because they didn’t have good time slots, they never wanted to make an attractive financial offer. … They would have given us Monday nights at 9 p.m., but some of our academic heads and presidents were not the least bit interested in that.’ ”
What he neglects to mention, of course, is that there’s no room on ESPN for the Pac-10 because when ESPN started becoming a major player in both college football and basketball, Hansen, rather than seeing an opportunity and aggressively pursuing a television contract with a national cable broadcaster, sat on the sidelines while more progressive commissioners passed him by.
In the other parts of the interview with the Times’ Bob Condotta, Hansen goes on to explain why the Pac-10 plays in just one New Year’s Day bowl game: “There are already four games (that morning) so the networks are either already taken or going against three other bowls, so (the presidents) are not interested in that.” Never mind the fact that it seems to be good enough for the other BCS conferences who seem to be thriving despite the morning “competition.” He also said that the presidents love the Holiday Bowl, and the conference’s strategy is to grow its smaller bowls into bigger bowls: “We think the Emerald Bowl (in San Francisco) will grow quite a bit in stature.”
So, let me get this straight: He loves the Holiday Bowl, where our second place team — which more often than not gets shafted from the BCS bowl picture thanks to a chronic lack of exposure — takes on the fourth place team from the Big 12? Or the Sun Bowl, where our third place team takes on the fifth place Big 12 team? Or the Emerald Bowl, where we take on the SEVENTH place ACC team?
Oh, and let’s not forget that Hansen is the one who said the Pac-10 would walk away from the BCS if a plus-one bowl model were ever instituted, because that would lead to an inevitable playoff and the other bowls would either become irrelevant or disappear altogether — pretending in his delusional state that they haven’t already diminished in stature thanks to the current BCS system.
Seriously, folks, this is the guy who has been leading your conference. And I bristle at the notion that he can do little more than just carry out the whims of his presidents, although Bob Condotta seems to sympathize with Hansen.
“That last comment reiterates a point I made in my earlier post on Hansen — a lot of these things involve a lot more than him. He’s an easy one to blame for some of these things, but if the presidents don’t want to do it, it’s not going to get done. As he told me at one point today ‘I don’t speak as an individual, but I reflect the institutions’ views.’ ”
Agreed, Hansen does work for the presidents. But, through athletics, what the institutions want more than anything is to, in no specific order, 1) Make money for their university; and 2) Raise the profile of their universities, which adds to enrollments, donations and grants, resulting in … you guessed it — more money. For the presidents, and for everyone else.
I guarantee, any commissioner that does those two things well will have the support of the Pac-10 presidents. And a strong commissioner who sees himself as more than a shill for the presidents can do those things. But it takes guts. Hansen never had those guts; he viewed himself as someone with little more power than an impotent Bud Selig at the beginning of his Major League Baseball commissioner reign. He was never willing to take a risk, never willing to put his job on the line with a gutsy decision.
There’s something to be said for protecting your job, but don’t play it safe on the one hand and then say you’ve done a great job on the other hand by pointing out that the conference has won 200-plus national championships on your watch and try and take credit for it — as if your “leadership” had jack crap to do with Arizona State’s fastpitch championship. Puh-leeze.
This is designed to be a year-long search, hence the timing of the announcement. And the timing couldn’t have been better. The awful TV contracts for both sports run out at the same time in 2011-12, and while that’s still a few years away, it will give the new commissioner plenty of time to work a new deal that actually will benefit the conference. And bowl affiliations are often reworked from year to year, so there’s plenty of work that can be done there right away.
My greatest fear, though, is that the Pac-10 doesn’t see any need to deviate from what it’s been doing and will hire one of Hansen’s underlings to toe the party line. Here’s to hoping that these presidents are forward-thinking men — stop laughing! — who want to hire someone to take this conference into the future.
Hansen’s right that this is the conference of champions. The fact that it doesn’t get more money or recognition for that is a travesty for which he is directly responsible. Good riddance.