SAN FRANCISCO — Ronnie Lott and J.T. Snow helped put up a wall, Marshawn Lynch cleared space with a sledgehammer and the Pac-12 got started building the studios for its new television network.
The conference held the groundbreaking for the Pac-12 networks in downtown San Francisco on Monday, about six months before it will hit the air with a national cable television network, six regional networks and a digital network.
"It's truly a seminal moment for the conference," Commissioner Larry Scott said at a ceremony featuring former great athletes from the conference, as well as San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. "It's an exciting time for college sports in general and there's no more exciting place to be than the Pac-12. We've got a great dynamic and bold vision for the future of college sports and the future of our conference."
This network is a major part of that. After reaching a 12-year contract worth about $3 billion last May with Fox and ESPN, Scott announced plans to launch a new conference-owned network to supplement coverage and create more exposure for Pac-12 athletes.
It will be a national network that will air 34 football games next season, at least 125 men's college basketball games, at least 40 women's basketball games and more than 650 Olympic sports events.
The six regional networks will focus more on local schools, providing increased exposure to a conference that has often lacked it despite on-field success.
"This is going to be an amazing opportunity for our student athletes," said Cal women's swimming coach Teri McKeever, a former All-American at USC. "There are wonderful world-class athletes in so many sports. With this network, we'll be able to showcase those stories and athletes and attract new fans to many sports they will be exposed to for the first time."
While the groundbreaking was an important step, there is still plenty of work to get done before the launch. About 100 more people need to be hired, infrastructure needs to be put in place to allow events to be broadcast from the campuses and a library of historic footage needs to be created.
"I had no business being here today, I really should be back doing something," said Lydia Murphy-Stephans, the head of the television networks. "But I needed to see the building. Up until now I had only seen the exterior. It makes it definitely more real."
The other major task is completing distribution agreements. The conference announced deals with cable companies Comcast, Cox, Time Warner and Bright House when it announced plans to launch the network in July. Those carriers are in about 40 million homes, although the network will only be on a sports tier outside the Pac-12 area.
The conference still needs to negotiate deals with Charter Cable, DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T and Verizon, among other companies. Talks have started but no agreements have been reached as of yet.
In other conference news, Scott said he is narrowing options for a host for the men's and women's basketball tournaments starting in 2013 and that he is close to a decision. This is the last year of a contract to hold the events in Los Angeles.
Scott said he is also talking with conference presidents and athletic directors about making changes to the Bowl Championship Series starting in 2014.
The Big Ten athletic directors recently announced they are comfortable exploring the possibility of a four-team playoff as opposed to the current system that matches the top two teams based on poll and computer rankings.
A four-team playoff was proposed in 2008 by the commissioners of the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference. It was shot down by the leaders of the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big East, Big 12 and Notre Dame.
NCAA President Mark Emmert has also said he supports a four-team championship playoff and is strongly against a 16-team format.
Scott said the conference could come up with its own plan or latch on to one from another conference before BCS meetings in April. He would not comment specifically on the Big Ten's plan, only saying it was indicative of "an open-mindedness."
"People are trying to think proactively," Scott said. "That's certainly what our approach is going to be. We want to look at it with a fresh set of eyes and be creative like we've done on other topics. There are, we believe, improvements that can be made and need to be made in postseason college football. We're not there with any particular plan or endorsement yet."