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Musings from Arledge: Vidgo, Orlando, and Kobe

I have an old riddle and a new one. First, the old: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Now the new: If a Pac 12 sporting event is streamed and no one is able to watch it, does it make a dollar?

Commissioner Larry Scott, ever on the cutting edge of sports broadcasting, has cut an exciting distribution deal for the Pac-12 Network. Previously, the Pac 12 Network could only be seen via the Aurora, Illinois public access television where it was the second-most-popular program.

But now Scott is taking the Pac-12 Network to new heights, inking a deal with Vidgo – I hope I’m spelling that right – a brand-new streaming service that virtually nobody has and few have even heard of. Vidgo currently reaches 18 homes on the West Coast and an additional 11 in Paraguay.

That this passes for good news is a sign of how dark things have been for the Pac-12Network. The conference famously can’t get a distribution deal with DirecTV. AT&T U-Verse has dropped the Pac-12 Network. Conference
executives have interfered in replay decisions during games. The conference has downsized its staff to the point where most of its broadcasts are recorded by sending Mike the Intern and his iPhone to the location via Volkswagen van while two high school juniors call the play-by-play remotely. The Betamax industry is more relevant than the Pac 12 Network.

Bottom line: nobody can see the Pac-12 Network, and nobody seems to care. Which is not to say that the popularity of Pac 12 football is waning. I hear its appeal is just becoming more selective.

Still, as bad as things are for the conference now, just wait until it cuts the next media deal. The Pac-12 with a hobbled USC is not an asset worth buying. It’s like cutting a new recording deal for U2 weeks after losing Bono and the Edge.

Still, USC’s conference foes have achieved their goal: parity. The conference is now Larry Scott and the Twelve Dwarves. The flagship program is mostly submerged, the money closer to Conference USA than the SEC, but at least the other eleven programs get the same sized slice of the tiny pie that the Trojans get. Congrats, guys, I guess.

Yet life is good for Larry Scott. He fancies himself a media mogul as well as a conference commissioner, even though nobody can see the conference’s programming, because at his insistence the Pac-12 refused to join forces with a true media company and instead kept the rights all to itself under Larry Scott’s direction. He makes more money than the other conference commissioners – even the successful ones, better known as all of them – and has the largest, most-expensive office. He has the support of the people who run some of America’s most prestigious institutions. For the Vidgo deal, conference presidents awarded Larry Scott a bonus of six million dollars, a yacht, and two Oregon cheerleaders. He’s living the dream.

Is there any hope? Don’t count on it. It is likely that only Prince Charles can lay to compensation and digs so out of proportion to his actual record of accomplishment. But that doesn’t mean the university presidents can figure it out. We already have seen what level of competence Carol Folt is willing to tolerate. Maybe she and the other university presidents really love Larry’s integrity.

Anybody want to bet that Clancy Pendergast has some success at his next job? I’m not saying he’s going to win a title or dominate whatever league he’s coaching in, but I bet he does okay. Just like Justin Wilcox did when he left. An offensive coordinator can put up numbers in a football culture that doesn’t value toughness. I’m not sure a defensive coordinator can.

USC fans might be a little bit like Taylor Swift, writing song after song about how crappy the ex was after each breakup. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying Wilcox and Pendergast should have kept their jobs. For crying out loud, somebody’s head has to roll for the crimes being done to USC’s defensive legacy. But if Clancy becomes the second ex to go on to a successful career after his USC relationship ends, we may need to consider whether the exes really deserve the brunt of the blame.

So, for better or worse, there’s a new guy now: defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. (I think his business card technically reads “Defensive Coordinator/New Future Scapegoat.”) That new guy left two days of meetings believing that he and Clay Helton are on the same page. “I had an opportunity to be with coach Helton multiple days and we believe in the same thing.” What is that thing, you ask? According to Orlando, they
apparently both believe in this: “It’s going to be physical. There’s no way around it. You can’t practice soft and play hard. I’m a true believer of that, so tackling, taking on blocks, defeating blocks, they’re all part of the game—the core fundamentals of playing football. So that’s the stuff we’re
going to do. We’re not going to talk about it. We’re not going to sit there on Saturdays and try to get things corrected. We’re going to do it all the time until we’ve mastered it.”

Umm, okay. I don’t want to be the one to tell him – Orlando currently has that gleam in his eye that you can only get from landing a million-dollar gig immediately after being fired for tanking at your last job, and I’d hate to be the one to take that away – but I think we can all agree that Orlando got suckered if he thinks that is Clay Helton’s philosophy.

I’d laugh at his naivete, but most of us at one point also bought Clay’s talk. It’s just that we’ve been hearing “tough,” “physical,” and “son of an O line coach” for years now, so we know exactly where to file those statements. Orlando doesn’t know. He thinks Coach “No Pads November” is serious about practicing hard and tackling. As or the rest rest of us, fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice….

None of this is to say that Orlando isn’t serious about his intentions or that he’s not a good defensive coordinator. Other than last year’s abomination, he’s had some successes. So did Clancy Pendergast. So did Justin Wilcox. Coordinators are important. But results won’t change without a change in the person who sets the culture. You could hire the best bass player in the world, but if Carl Lewis is still singing the anthem that night, does it really matter? Want to improve the band? Find a good front man.

I’m writing this having just heard that Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. As a longtime Lakers fan, that one hurts. I know Kobe was a polarizing figure. Even apart from Colorado — I don’t pretend to know what happened there, but his behavior was at least immoral if not illegal — he was the target of some legitimate criticism over his on- court selfishness.

But I’ll say this for Kobe Bryant: that guy left it all on the court, and not just on game days: he left it all on the court at 5:00 a.m. during the offseason. If everybody cared as much as Kobe did, if everybody showed the same level of dedication and had the same work ethic as Kobe Bryant, the world would be a very different place.

Having watched a USC program that just isn’t as serious, as dedicated, or as hard-working as the elite programs in the country, I would like to see a little of Kobe Bryant’s attitude in our Trojans.

Carthago delenda est.

Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.

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