• Mark Schipper

Modern NCAA Conference Commissioner was Forged in Fiery Destruction of the Pacific Coast Conference

By Mark Schipper

George Kliavkoff, a major operator in digital-television programming and most recently a sports-entertainment executive at MGM Resorts International, was hired in the late spring of 2021 to replace Larry Scott as commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference.

Kliavkoff, a well-connected operator hired to take over the Pac-12, stands in front of the White House.

Kliavkoff formally took over the job the first day of July but had been actively meeting with the top conference membership and athletic interests for the last six weeks, attempting to build an allied strategy between schools for approaching a treacherous landscape in college athletics. That was an activity and a process, talking to athletic administrators and seeking a smart consensus, that did not interest his predecessor and was of a piece with a long list of grievances that led to the early end to Scott's eleven-year tenure.

Everywhere Scott failed or came up short, from the critical areas of television and media rights, where the league has fallen far behind its peers in wealth and exposure, to creating a unified plan to let football lead the brand, where everything begins in college sports, Kliavkoff is expected to succeed.

And for the Pac-12, where there has been an obvious and general absence of savvy, consensus-building leadership, the change at the top is meant to fill the void at a crucial moment in the history of college sports.

Outgoing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was known for looking down his nose at those who had the temerity to question his methods.

Media contracts, triumphs on the football field, brand marketing and exposure are the high-stakes fields that the modern conference commissioner has to dominate and master. The job has grown into a vitally important post at the same rate that football has undergone the metamorphosis from a hybrid academic/athletic endeavor to an almost unalloyed entertainment property.

The man holding that position today is expected to serve as an affable brand ambassador to the rest of the country, a tough representative of his schools’ interests in the media and business worlds, as well as a shameless promoter and well-connected deal-maker for his league's teams. But these high-priced and fairly glamorous responsibilities were not why league commissioners came to exist in the first place; it is a position that has changed its essential character more than any other job in college athletics.

Old-school conference chiefs generally came from the academy, out of the NCAA bureaucracy, and even from the FBI or military, to be deputized as a combination overseer and sheriff within their league territories. The original commissioners were tasked with monitoring membership for compliance with NCAA bylaws, for enforcing rules and keeping close tabs on sports-related activities, and working as a kind of internal-affairs liaison between their leagues and the NCAA.

The position was meant to be an open circuit between the far-flung regional conferences and the association's national headquarters, a czar to ensure the conferences stayed above board and that collegiate games were kept collegiate.

Walter Byers, the man who built the modern NCAA while serving as its first full-time executive director from 1951 to 1988, watched as this sea change slowly occurred with the league commissioner job. He described it in his 1995 memoir and NCAA history, titled Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes.

“Present-day conference commissioners emphasize compliance programs and rules seminars [as opposed to enforcing them—addition and emphasis are mine]. They negotiate TV contracts, run conference championships, and argue for larger money grants from the NCAA. They serve as diplomats who are expected to negotiate differences with the NCAA. Promoters and diplomats have more fun than prosecutors. They leave tough enforcement matters to the NCAA.”

The fatal flaws with the old style were exposed as television dollars began taking over the sport. The growing piles of wealth and the expanding opportunity for glory created by the broadcasting of the sport naturally escalated the risks serious programs were willing to run to capture their own share.

What had seemed manageable through an old-fashioned application of collegiate integrity was gradually fouled by the fact that the institutions the commissioner was hired to oversee were run by his direct bosses. Those bosses found themselves under intense, unrelenting pressure from multiple groups, both inside and outside the university, to facilitate football excellence at whatever cost. The capital returns had proved over and over that every expenditure came back in multiples of the original number.

Further polluting the ecosystem for commissioners was the place that head coaches had taken in the popular culture. By the middle twentieth century successful coaches had become national figures, peace-time leaders of the social order with rabid support bases that stretched far beyond the reach of any individual school or league. Winning football games, alongside the appearance of molding young men into elite future citizens, gave coaches their mystique. Losing coaches were either forgotten or lived in infamy. With the support of millions behind them, coaches applied all the leverage they had to pressure schools into giving full support to the football program, which in turn added to the intensity administrators felt to meet the competition where it lived, and do whatever that meant doing to keep pace.

With head coaches, the mass media, millions of fans, and aggressive alumni demanding everything from the sport, and schools addicted to the cash flow produced by it, football began to grow too big for any of the campus checks and balances meant to corral the game. Under these conditions it became not just highly unpopular, but professionally dangerous, for conference commissioners to watch over their bosses with the intention of exposing transgressions they may have committed in the pursuit of football excellence. Any conference commissioner that stepped forward to indict a college football team was going to be about as popular as a prohibition agent flipping on the lights inside a speak easy after midnight.

Instead of league failsafes, conference commissioners had turned into potential narcs to be boxed out and avoided. Important elements of the football-friendly leadership around the country began to see self-policing as a form of self-sabotage, and the self-reporting of violations a kind of Horatio Alger innocence that other leagues would simply exploit for their own gain.

While the complete role of the modern conference commissioner developed over decades, there was a moment when the position truly emerged, Phoenix like, from the ashes of the Pacific Coast Conference after it had burned to the ground in 1959. The PCC is the direct ancestor of the Pac-12, but the original had disappeared in a firestorm of scandal and a plague of mutual distrust shortly after its respected commissioner, Victor O. Schmidt, had been forced to resign his post for executing his duties in a little too police-like a fashion, and a little too well.

This dissolution and reconstitution of the major West Coast league happened at the same time the sport was sloughing off most of what gave it any claims to an amateur nature. The crack up, not coincidentally, happened several years after the loss of what was called the Sanity Code, a set of rules meant to reserve college athletics for at least half-serious college students; less than a decade after the NCAA had put the sport on broadcast television; and in the middle of the transition to the “full-ride” athletic scholarship, the so-called “pay for play” that marked a major change in athletic philosophy.

With the new scholarship rules, pushed for almost exclusively by southern colleges that had no moral compunctions about building a powerful football team separate from the school's academic mission, universities were allowed to onboard athletes purely to play their given sport, making any kind of academic qualifications a formally-endangered metric.

“The fact is, from the college beer halls where enthusiastic students gather, to the trustee level of university management, almost no one wants to change the structure or the rules of this successful entertainment enterprise,” Byers wrote in his memoir. “Today’s enlarged NCAA rule book and the beleaguered NCAA enforcement program cannot produce the changes and restore the integrity many seek.”

The PCC had been founded in 1915, twenty-years after the Big Ten, and became known from its earliest days as an ultra-strict, faculty-controlled and academically prestigious league. The PCC was not afraid to suspend flagship schools for entire seasons, or promulgate stern punishments for violations of its rulebook.

It was the kind of league that would, for the simple joy of grabbing a football program by the scruff of the neck, float off-season proposals to banish spring practice, or outlaw participation in bowl games. The PCC's academics wanted law and adherence to law and they did not seem to care how hypocritical or foolish they looked to the rest of the country in laying it down. While the southern colleges were playing big-time football and loving it, the West Coast colleges were being ordered by its academics to play school.

The league’s first commissioner was Ed Atherton, a Georgetown University product who had been invited over by the schools from the FBI to survey the conference from a law and order perspective and make a report. After submitting a sophisticated, two-million word treatise on conference integrity for the school's presidents and chancellors to digest, he was hired as commissioner in 1939. Something about a two-million word report full of facts and anecdotes on rule following had endeared Atherton to the conferences' leadership.

Atherton had served quietly and successfully as commissioner until 1944, when at age forty-seven he suddenly dropped dead. Atherton was replaced by the aforementioned Schmidt, who had been his assistant commissioner and protege. Schmidt had inherited the job under express orders to keep the conference squeaky clean, and he would be at work doing just that when everything went to pieces fifteen-years later.

Ed Atherton: G-Man.

The PCC had been chartered by just four schools, California-Berkeley, Stanford, Washington, and Oregon, but had expanded over the next fifteen-years to include Oregon State, Washington State, Idaho, Montana, USC and UCLA. Within that volatile mixture of old and new universities, major population centers and rural communities, it did not take long for serious class antagonisms and unhealthy rivalries to fester between league members.

Old-money Stanford and California went hard on nouveau riche USC, both for its easy academic standards and its “too-exuberant” embrace of football as a way to build its brand. Both California and Stanford had refused to play USC for several years in the middle 1920s, ostensibly embarrassed to be associated with them after USC had been caught subsidizing some of its football players. The older California schools made sure USC never forgot how much they looked down on their university and their city.

When UCLA, the nine-year-old Southern Branch of the University of California joined the league in 1928, the two Los Angeles schools at first found exceptionally-rare common ground in a culture war against the older Bay-Area institutions. Both Southern California schools took offense at the openly snobbish and superior attitudes of their northern rivals, and found motivation in striving to dominate them in athletics. While Cal and Stanford tried to look down on the LA schools for their love of sport and competition, behind the scenes they attempted to match them.

But several decades later this California Split would become a California Confederation, allied with the University of Washington in Seattle, as the leagues' power centers all turned on the smaller, rural schools of the north. The bigger institutions had come to believe that schools like Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State were manipulating the conservative, academic leadership of the PCC into putting artificial caps on their naturally-higher ceilings. The big schools felt trapped on a small-time ticket with their athletic and social inferiors, and they resented it.

In an era when the stadium gate receipts were a critical source of funding, the big-market schools all took major financial hits playing games at small stadiums in Eugene, Corvallis, Portland, Helena, and Moscow, Idaho. Their national reputations also suffered under the impression that they played weaker competition than the country’s other major programs.

The smaller schools, for their part, suppressed their own malice and contempt for the leagues' big shots, fearing, with a good deal of justification, that if they lost their membership in the PCC their athletic departments might disappear forever from the sport’s biggest stage. Like an unhappy marriage, both sides suffered each other’s presence while dreaming of a better future.

A line by the columnist Ed Hughes, published in The Los Angeles Times after USC beat the Oregon Agricultural College (Oregon State) in Portland in 1926, summed up the situation perfectly:

“The Oregon Farmers can now attend to their milking and other chores and forget all about winning the Coast Conference championship and representing the West against the East at Pasadena on New Year’s Day,” wrote Hughes.

In the early days under commissioner Schmidt the PCC maintained its reputation for strict adherence to rules. The Sanity Code, instituted in 1948, lasted only two years after it proved wildly unpopular with every league except the Big Ten and PCC. In 1949, not wanting to miss an opportunity to enforce it, the PCC had fined multiple schools between $55,000 and $120,000 dollars for violations of its provisions. Almost every other league in the country was operating as if it didn't exist.

That move had sparked a vicious rebuke from The Los Angeles Times, which had read, in part, that, “The dear dull dillies who control the PCC proved themselves once again either so hypocritical or so stupidly ineffective that it verges on the ludicrous to place them in a position of power and authority.”

Toxic rivalries between the league’s universities and population centers—a feeling that certain school’s athletic departments were battling their own university administrations—and an overarching sense that the conference itself wanted to punish its athletically ambitious members rather than promote them, was the state of mutual disdain and distrust in the air as the league rolled into the 1950s.

If all of these elements could have been fed into a weather radar, the catastrophic storm that broke out to open the decade would not have been a surprise. A super-cell event was about to pummel the league and would prove once more that the college-football marketplace was nearly impossible to regulate below its own preferred level.

The saga began at Oregon in 1951, with the Webfoot’s head coach Fred Aiken admitting to commissioner Schmidt he had provided athletes extra benefits to play for him. It was something he had felt pressured to do to keep pace with the powerful teams being assembled in the leagues' bigger population centers.

For five years after the Oregon scandal had broke the PCC made a public effort to demonstrate its integrity, investing all of its powers of enforcement in the university presidents and chancellors, whose point man for the crackdown was of course commissioner Schmidt. The PCC did what it could to demonstrate its belief in clean participation in athletics and its love of law-and-order remained intact.

But in January of 1956, in the middle of this clean up, an even bigger explosion went off. Players at the University of Washington, unhappy with some allegedly physical discipline meted out by Huskies’ head coach John Cherbourg, mutinied and went to the newspapers with their stories. Multiple players revealed the existence of a secret slush fund hiding in plain sight, a cash account operated by an already-infamous booster known as Roscoe “Torchy” Torrance.

The slush fund had helped the Huskies recruit not only in Los Angeles, but also in Chicago, where they took many players out of the Big Ten’s territory at a time when that kind of national recruiting was reserved for Notre Dame and very few others. Once the slush fund in Seattle had been exposed, loosening lips around the league gave Schmidt critical insight on where to look, and things began breaking bad, quickly.

Within three months multiple illicit slush funds were found at UCLA, USC, and California, where ostensibly benevolent organizations like the one exposed at Washington were found operating in plain sight. Making Schmidt’s job even easier was the way in which one caught-school helped expose the next in line.

It was the wife of a UCLA alumnus who stumbled across USC’s bogus athletic fund, and people at USC who pointed investigators toward the dummy accounts set up by California-Berkeley. In a league with little consensus and a lot of infighting, it was almost touching to watch most of its membership decide they would rather fry together than all alone. What was most disturbing about the network of slush funds was that in every case administrators and coaches knew about them and even facilitated the connection with athletes.

For NCAA member schools this was a monstrous scandal, the black-ugly heart of everything the association was built to control and blot out. But because the sport at this time was watched over and policed locally, much of the investigation and punishment fell to the conference itself, a process the NCAA more or less certified at its annual meetings. This is where Schmidt, in zealously prosecuting his office, cost himself his job and helped bring about the dissolution of the league. It was a moment that forever changed the role of conference commissioner in college athletics.

The PCC dealt out swift and savage punishments to its biggest schools, including Washington, Cal, USC, and UCLA. But the league made a serious error in making Orlando Hollis, the dean of Oregon’s Law School, the faculty representative in charge of the investigations and discipline. Hollis operated in the center of that group of smaller schools that openly disdained the league heavyweights. Beyond that he had a well known contempt for Los Angeles, a city he referred to as a cesspool while implying its universities were of a piece with the town.

Oregon's Orlando Hollis, far right, at what may be a football game.

When Hollis and his faculty crew, in consultation with commissioner Schmidt, announced their litany of penalties, including stripping away players' eligibility and multiple year bowl bans for the league’s flagship programs, the conference began to set fire to itself.

The newspapers in Los Angeles, where the seedier realities of big-time college football had become mundane, inserted themselves into the fray, lambasting what they considered a backward administration of the league. In one editorial they branded the conference chiefs: “The Floundering Fathers of the PCC."

The Los Angeles Times specifically was vicious in its contempt for the way the conference’s faculty took over the penalty phase, describing the process as “the posturing of intellectual giants who are suddenly feeling their muscles . . . . the acts of egg heads who were frustrated, thwarted, and diabolically envious of the fame achieved by football coaches and players, since their own search for personal acclaim has proven futile.”

Hollis at Oregon was sited in for direct and sustained shelling, with newspapers calling Oregon the “University of Hollis,” and Hollis himself “The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse.” One editorial described the school as little more than “Orlando Hollis and his gay group of vestal virgins,” while yet another described him as an “Avenging Angel and well-known inventor of unworkable athletic codes.”

The same newspapers began advocating for UCLA and USC to leave the PCC and join their academic and economic peers in another league; or to go independent and play a broad intersectional schedule against national football powers. A related movement got up at the same time calling for the four California schools to break away from the PCC and form their own league to compete against the rest of the country.

The situation somehow deteriorated further later in the year when the bigger schools moved to raise the monthly stipend for scholarship athletes, which was an honest effort to make the reason for the slush funds less of a necessity. Their proposal was voted down by the smaller-market schools who felt that the current number was satisfactory, which of course it was in towns like Eugene, Corvallis, Pullman, and Moscow. How far the dollar went in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle was of little concern to their conference brethren. There were growing class antagonisms, brass tacks economic realities, and feelings of pure disdain in open circulation that were tearing the conference apart.

With USC and UCLA freshly suspended, and major penalties debilitating both Cal and Washington, Oregon State and Oregon promptly won the PCC titles in 1956 and 1957, respectively. The Beavers and Webfoots then played in back to back Rose Bowls, where they went 0-2, with Oregon State clobbered by Iowa and the Ducks clipped by Ohio State in a close battle. Those two campaigns seemed to solidify the big-school paranoia that the league’s smaller schools, who if they were no worse than their conference mates certainly were not any better, would resort to hamstringing their betters in order to beat them.

The Los Angeles papers called it “the tyranny of the smaller schools,” claiming they were motivated by jealousy and resentment over a level of success they struggled to attain. In a general way conferences were kept in workable confederations like the colonies in the early United States. A collection of schools existing in varying circumstances, with different economic conditions and opportunities, had to be shown strong common cause in order to stay together. In the late 1950s the PCC lost its belief in commonality.

Throughout 1957 representatives of the PCC’s bigger schools applied pressure on commissioner Schmidt, sounding him out on his principles and beliefs. They had not changed since he was hired thirteen years earlier, but everyday they were appearing a little more antiquated for the era that was taking shape. According to NCAA executive director Byers, Schmidt would be called to the floor during conference meetings and asked questions “like Jesus was the by Pharisees.”

Someone would ask Schmidt if it was a problem if a coach bought a football recruit a soda during a recruiting visit. When Schmidt answered that yes, by NCAA and PCC rules that was a violation, he would be ridiculed as a fool and a simpleton. The football powers could no longer abide a Ned Flanders-type policing of their league. For them, scofflaws had become exactly that, and bigger violations were something to be talked out in private, not in faculty meetings amongst jealous academics, or on the front page of newspapers distributed across the country.

The incessant top-down pressure from the league’s heavyweights led to Schmidt’s resignation in December of 1957, six years after the scandal at Oregon had touched off the crisis, and one year after the Washington mutiny knocked over the rest of the dominoes. During that time Schmidt had done nothing more than the job he was hired for, and in that pursuit little more than following extremely obvious evidence to its conclusion.

But powerful forces within the league had reached an epiphany: The work of a conference commissioner charged with policing his own membership ran the risk of becoming, in effect, indistinguishable from that of a professional saboteur operating from within the organization itself.

Schmidt, who was brought onboard in one era and kicked off in what was clearly another, left his post a bewildered man.

“They hired me to keep it clean,” a shellshocked Schmidt said to Byers.

Byers, who had watched this disturbing drama from the NCAA headquarters in Kansas City, believed Schmidt was purely a scapegoat for the rampant pay-offs and dirty recruiting that he had helped uncover. The athletic power centers within the PCC had determined they were doing business like every other major league across the country, and rather than work on the problem on a national level, they decided to make an example of their local enforcement. The message was received with zero distortion.

Walter Byers on a fine summer day at NCAA HQ outside of Kansas City.

Schmidt had no illusions about what was taking shape in major college football, and at a meeting of the full NCAA Council he had laid out his perspective:

“We cannot cure a disease by treating its symptoms," said Schmidt. "We legislate against recruiting while allowing the pressures from winning to go unabated. We know it takes winning material to win games. We know the fate of the coach who fails. We are the guardians of a precarious balance between institutional idealism and practical college athletics.

“Ethically and idealistically, colleges and universities cannot accept the professional. Practically and realistically, they are unwilling or unable to govern the pressures for the highly organized, competitive and winning athletics program that their public, their alumni and, perhaps in a lesser degree, their students demand.”

Later, after he had resigned, Schmidt penned a public letter describing the trouble the next league commissioner was going to have, and every commissioner after that.

“Under the code, he the commissioner will have the rather unenviable position of sitting as judge of those who employ him," wrote Schmidt. "He must preserve a judicial demeanor and temperament while those seeking his rulings, no matter how sincere they might be, are blinded by their own interests. His ruling in many cases disappoints the institution requesting his opinions.

“His decisions will prove too literal, too narrow, too technical, too liberal, or too broad. He will, moreover, require an objectivity and perspective which he cannot expect from those against whom he may rule. There is nothing abnormal or uncommon in this result; it is the thinking of all mankind. It is motivated by self-interest.”

The major players in the PCC, as it turned out, agreed with Schmidt about the problems with a conference commissioner, and they weren’t going to be disappointed by one again. Over the course of a turbulent decade the PCC had changed tacks, and a league that once had been a stalwart in shackling the growing beast of football, began to see unmistakable signs that the restraints were about to snap.

So in 1959, with the big schools determining the differences with their smaller brethren had become irreconcilable, the membership agreed to dissolve the conference. Immediately afterward UCLA, USC, Cal, and Washington announced a new affiliation, which they called the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU). Stanford would join them within a month.

The universities made it a point to not identify themselves as a conference. They also decided against a strong central authority and a conference commissioner, opting instead for a kind of ambassador they would title the "Association Executive."

The man they hired as their operative was Tom J. Hamilton, a former star halfback at the Naval Academy and a World War II hero who had served as the executive officer on the legendary USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. Hamilton had been a head-football coach at Navy and the University of Pittsburgh, but most importantly he was well liked and his integrity was considered unimpeachable.

Upon taking the job Hamilton was told there would be no enforcement role in his new position, and he would serve instead as an ambassador and salesman for the new association, promoting its interests around the country, helping schedule big intersectional games, and growing its prestige wherever possible.

Rather than a strict conference charter with explicit rules, like the PCC had prided itself on, the new association reverted to a much older model, allowing for an “institutional application of rules” to determine how athletes would be handled. In the most revealing stricture of the new order, all of the member schools were expected to adhere to a personal honor system when it came to violations of the NCAA code.

It was a radical experiment in trusting your brother from the remnants of a league freshly traumatized by major slush fund scandals at all of its top programs. They were determined not to repeat history—not by reforming themselves—but by choosing to stop looking for trouble.

The AAWU flexed its power immediately, and made an aggressive statement about its new association when it explicitly blocked Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State from joining the quintet. The move let those universities know they were not necessary for success, and that their France punishing Germany after World War I-act during the last round of scandals had been the end of the line.

Idaho, a school that had been barely hanging on as a member for decades, took the opportunity to go independent for several years. Later, they became a charter member of the Big Sky Conference alongside the University of Montana, a school that had left the PCC of its own accord in 1950 just before the problems went public.

While the AAWU did not have a contract with the Rose Bowl, the Pasadena committee revealed their loyalties when they invited Washington, the association’s first champion, to represent the West in the game following that inaugural season in 1959. The AAWU would blackball its old PCC antagonists in the north until 1962, when Washington State was allowed to join.

After letting the Oregon schools plead their cases for two more years, the association finally relented in 1964, permitting both institutions to rejoin their old cohorts. At that point they became a proper league again and began calling themselves the Pacific Athletic Conference. Four years later, in 1968, they reconstituted as the Pac-8, but the principles of the AAWU remained largely intact.

Hamilton served as executive until 1971 when he retired and was replaced by Wiles Hallock, who once again took the title of commissioner. Hallock later told Byers that during the transition Hamilton confessed to a difficult moral ambivalence about his role as AAWU executive. Hamilton had become aware of multiple NCAA violations within the Association, but because it was explicitly not his job to police the league he could only talk with athletic and academic administrators behind the scenes, doing what he could to fix the issues. Hamilton never took anything public like his predecessor, Schmidt, had done.

The implosion of the PCC was an extreme example of the drift occurring in major college football, but the league was not alone. In the late 1950s Howard Grubb of the Southwest Conference reported to the NCAA that Paul “Bear” Bryant, who had been caught illegally recruiting and subsidizing players at Texas A&M, was stirring up fans and other schools within the league against the conference and its commissioner for enforcing their own rules.

“It’s getting pretty rough down here. You can’t believe what the Texas A&M people are trying to do. Bryant has them charged up,” Grubb told Byers.

Grubb took so much personal heat that he began hiring private investigators to conduct interviews and gather evidence on behalf of the conference. He wanted his name out of the newspapers and out of the crosshairs of a rabid and potentially psychotic fan base. Grubb would retire from the SWC in 1971 just before the volcano erupted.

Within a decade the conference was caught up in several of the biggest football scandals in the history of the NCAA, including the first and only instance of the so-called Death Penalty, administered to SMU after the 1986 season.

The NCAA over the years has become one of the most reviled organizations in American sports, disdained for its obsolete conception of amateurism, its big-money exploitation of athletes, and its wildly fluctuating standards for rules enforcement that have proven so haphazard that even the most veteran beat reporter will refuse to predict what might happen in any given case.

But while the NCAA has brought much of the enmity on itself, it is important to remember the large share of blame owed to the presidents and chancellors, the faculty representatives to the NCAA, and the conferences themselves. As the rewards and glory for winning grew, the spine for calling out cheating and bringing down the hammer of enforcement shrunk. In slowly retreating from the difficult work of keeping their sport clean, the schools and leagues put the NCAA enforcement division in an untenable situation.

All of this ethical turmoil can be seen clearly in the scandals that erupted on the West Coast from 1951 through 1959, culminating in the forced resignation of an honest league commissioner, and the astonishing dissolution of a forty-four-year-old prestige league in the PCC.

The contrast from then to today is made more stark in the clearing out of Pac-12 Commissioner Scott and the hiring of Kliavkoff to heal the league’s wounded reputation. While Schmidt was bullied out of office for strictly enforcing a rulebook he had been handed by his bosses, Scott, sixty-years later, was pressured out for failing to sell and promote the league as a highly competitive entertainment package. The man he’s been replaced with will be expected to shore up what Scott let break down.

The role of the conference commissioner has followed the arc of college football, for good or ill: designed to be one thing but slowly transforming into another. A critical turning point in that evolution happened out west at the end of the 1950s, when a major conference decided it did not need to pay a policeman to keep its nose clean.

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