In Tom Hansen's 26 years as commissioner, the Pacific 10 Conference has enjoyed unprecedented success -- particularly in the non-revenue Olympic sports. However, it has also endured its share of criticism, notably its lack of national exposure in an ESPN world.
Hansen is set to retire July 1, meaning he will be leaving in the midst of an investigation into alleged NCAA rules violations concerning USC football and basketball.
In a recent question-and-answer session with The Times, Hansen talked about the investigation, the controversial Bowl Championship Series he was instrumental in forming, and the future of the Pac-10. The following are edited excerpts:
Question: Does it bother you to leave with the USC investigation still unresolved?
Answer: It doesn't bother me, because it's a rare time where you don't have some investigation going on. I realize the Reggie Bush part of this has gone on, I think it's safe to say, longer than any case that's happened during my tenure. . . .
The frustrating thing is that it's been so extremely difficult to gather information even when people are running around leaking information that they allege to be true. I notice that most of the time when people are talking in these cases there's a book about to come out, but I'm sure that's just happenstance.
Q. Why has it taken so long?
A: The single factor that people probably don't understand, because they watch TV and they watch these prosecutors and police nail people . . . and they all do it in 19 minutes or whatever you have in a half-hour show . . . you have an excruciating process because we do not have subpoena power. . . . We cannot subpoena anyone or force them to testify, so they don't.
Q. Cynics would suggest the Pac-10 is trying to protect USC football because it is a cash cow.
A: Well, that's absolutely false. We have devoted great time and resources to try to resolve the issue, whatever the outcome might be.
Q: Are you comfortable the USC case will come to a just conclusion?
A: Yes, I think the history of the NCAA and the conference enforcement programs is that things are done fairly, so I'm confident they will be in this case. I just hope, like everybody else, and I'm sure USC is No. 1 on this, that it all could be concluded. But I think you have to step back and see that USC can't bring this to a conclusion, because almost all of the parties involved lie outside the university and outside the control of the university.
Once those student athletes leave, and there's no eligibility at risk, you lose leverage completely over them. If Reggie Bush or O.J. Mayo were trying to retain their eligibility, then you'd have some leverage. But that's not the case.
Q. Hypothetically, how would you strip a national title from a football team? Unlike basketball, the NCAA doesn't run football.
A: It's trickier because you don't have the NCAA mechanisms. . . . It's not completely clear exactly how the process could be pursued.
Q: How can you say the BCS has been good for the Pac-10? Oregon finished No. 2 in the polls in 2001 but didn't make the title game. USC was No. 1 in the coaches' poll in 2003 but finished No. 3 in the BCS.
A: Each conference has had some disappointments. . . . The BCS, through obvious great foresight of the commissioners who were involved, has been an extraordinary success in terms of the regular season being so strong. Television, attendance, everything about college football is much better than before the BCS started.
Q: Does it bother you that you are portrayed as an obstructionist by the pro-playoff crowd?
A: I primarily reflect the view of the conference. . . . If people disagree with that view, I don't take it personally.
I think many of the people who advocate a playoff have no real understanding in the difficulty of a playoff.
Q. Would that include the president of the United States?
A: Yes, and I don't think he begins to understand the difficulties of a playoff. I think he's probably very well-versed on North Korea and the Middle East but not particularly the college football playoff.
Q. Does it complicate the issue when someone so prominent goes public with his position?
A: I would be much more concerned if a president in our conference came out in favor of a playoff than I am of President Obama saying it.
It would be so negative for college football in my opinion that it just doesn't make good sense. Including the fact it would be 16 teams, not the four that many people advocate, because politically you couldn't stop at four, you couldn't stop at eight, you couldn't stop at 12. And even at 16 you'd have problems.
Q: Are you confident the BCS can withstand another legal challenge?
A: I am confident. We've had excellent legal counsel. And I trust lawyers from all over the country who comment that there's nothing illegal about it.
The only thing the federal government could do to force the issue, I think, would be to cut off funding for higher education. Well, that isn't going to happen.