Pac-12 Networks hires ex-star athletes

The Pac-12 picked three familiar faces to be the first on-air talent hired for the conference’s new television networks.

Hall of Fame football player Ronnie Lott, Olympic gold medal swimmer Summer Sanders and Rose Bowl-winning quarterback and coach Rick Neuheisel were hired Wednesday as analysts for the Pac-12 Networks, which launches in August.

”These are the faces of the Pac-12,” said Lydia Murphy-Stephans, the executive vice president and general manager of the Pac-12 Networks. ”They will be responsible for helping bring Pac-12 Networks to life. All three are colorful storytellers, which is tremendously important to our network and our brand.”

Lott played four years at Southern California, helping the Trojans win two Rose Bowls and a share of the 1978 national title. He played on four Super Bowl winners with San Francisco during his 14-year NFL career. He has previously worked as an NFL analyst with Fox.

”It’s a dream come true,” Lott said. ”We get a chance to talk about the best conference and the conference that has the most championships, and we get the chance to do it in everybody’s living room.”

Sanders won six NCAA individual titles, two NCAA Swimmer of the Year honors and helped Stanford win the 1992 national championship during her two years with the Cardinal. She won four medals at the 1992 Olympics, including gold in the 200-meter butterfly and 400 IM and has had a long career in television.

Neuheisel, a former walk-on at UCLA, helped the Bruins win the 1984 Rose Bowl. He later started a coaching career, which took him to three schools currently in the conference. He coached four years at Colorado, won the Rose Bowl during his four-year stint at Washington and was fired last December after four years at UCLA. He also got a law degree at USC and grew up going to Arizona State games, where his father was a teacher.

”I told Lydia when we met, if your resume requires that you’ve been either fired or booed by every team in the conference, then I’m your leading candidate,” Neuheisel said. ”I’ve been in every arena. I know all the nuances of each of the places. I’ve spent a lot of time in this conference.”

Neuheisel would not rule out returning to coaching at some point but said he’s looking forward to the new challenge in television.

”It’s a new direction,” he said. ”It’s not something I’m going into to bide my time. It’s going to require a full commitment and one I’m excited about beginning.”

Pac-12 Networks consists of one national and six regional networks to give extensive coverage to the conference’s sports teams.

Gary Stevenson, the president of Pac-12 Enterprises, said there will be about 35 football games, 125 men’s basketball games, 50 women’s basketball games and about 200 Olympic sports events broadcast on all seven networks.

The regional networks, which cover Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and the mountain region, will also show an additional 50 events from each of the two schools in their coverage areas.

”I do think a lot of the Olympic sports will see some love and some much-needed love, which is great,” said Sanders, who recalled that the only way her parents could see her compete was by traveling to events. ”It’s amazing and impressive how many Olympians attend these universities. This will be a way to highlight them.”

Officials are still developing a programming grid and hope to have a fall schedule out sometime next month.