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CU Buffs leaders excited about new Pac-12 commissioner

Chancellor Phil DiStefano, athletic director Rick George applaud Pac-12’s choice of George Kliavkoff

Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano is the chair of the Pac-12 CEO group.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano is the chair of the Pac-12 CEO group.

As part of the search committee to identify a new commissioner for the Pac-12 Conference, Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano was impressed with the quality of the candidates.

The man the conference wound up hiring, George Kliavkoff, stood out above the rest.

“We interviewed some great candidates from different backgrounds and, personally, George was my No. 1 candidate and I was just thrilled that he accepted the position,” DiStefano told BuffZone.com. “I look forward to working with him, and with the other presidents and chancellors.”

Kliavkoff was introduced as the new Pac-12 commissioner on Thursday. DiStefano and Colorado athletic director Rick George both called it a celebratory day. They believe this hire will benefit not only the Pac-12 but CU, as well.

“I think he’s gonna be great for us,” George told BuffZone. “He does (know the Pac-12 issues) and that’s important. He’s got great experience; he’s been an executive. I think he’s going to do great things for the conference.”

Kliavkoff, who will replace Larry Scott, will start his new job as commissioner on July 1. While Kliavkoff was a surprise choice to many, DiStefano said he was thoroughly impressed by what Kliavkoff had to offer.

DiStefano was part of the five-member executive committee that helped to conduct the search, along with the search firm TurnkeyZRG.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “Turnkey was a wonderful search firm to work with. They’ve done some incredible work. They did the ACC commissioner search (in 2020), as well.

“They did a great job of recruiting candidates for this position. … In the interviews that we did, George did an exceptional job. His background, obviously from a business standpoint, what he’s been doing at MGM Resorts in sports and entertainment, plus he’s done work with Major League Baseball. He, from a network standpoint, was with Hulu early on, so he came with so many assets that I believe we need in the Pac-12 to move forward.”

The Pac-12 is in desperate need of moving forward. Competitively and financially, the Pac-12 has lagged behind its Power 5 conference peers.

CU and other Pac-12 schools each collected about $32.6 million in conference distribution for the 2020 fiscal year, well below the Big Ten (about $54 million), SEC ($45.5 million) and Big 12 ($37.7 million).

To improve financially, the Pac-12 needs more national exposure – the Pac-12 Network has not provided as much as hoped – and to make a splash on its next media rights deal. The current 12-year deal expires before the 2024 football season.

“A key area – and there were many areas – but a key area coming up is our media rights, and working with ESPN, Fox,” DiStefano said. “For me that was definitely a priority, and I would say it’s a priority for my colleagues, as well. Definitely from my standpoint, having someone there to be able to negotiate our media rights, in ’23-‘24, that’s going to be extremely helpful to the Pac-12 as we move forward.

“(Kliavkoff) is a professional in his area and is really tied in to the major networks, as well as the streaming networks that I believe will be really important as we move toward a new media deal. That is definitely going to help the University of Colorado.”

Another key to moving forward is success in the two revenue-producing sports: football and men’s basketball. The Pac-12 hasn’t achieved much national success or attention in those sports in several years. Football, in particular, is a priority for Kliavkoff, as it the main revenue-producing sport.

“Success in football is really important to the Pac-12,” Kliavkoff said.

George said it’s refreshing to hear Kliavkoff openly talk about a focus on football and men’s basketball.

“Our sports and our conference, we win more national titles than any conference in America,” George said. “We’ll continue to do that but the reality is that football and men’s basketball have to be incredibly successful for us to grow and get better.”

Like Scott, Kliavkoff comes to the Pac-12 without on-campus experience. Scott never did connect much with athletic directors around the conference, but George believes he and the other ADs can work well with Kliavkoff.

“Understanding campus is important,” George said. “I don’t think that’ll be really difficult for him. With his vast experience, he’s going to be great. … We’ve got a number of ADs that are really good at (knowing campuses) and we can help him. We want to work with him, and all of our ADs do, to make the conference better. Just because he hasn’t been on campus, I don’t think that’s going to impact his ability to lead in this conference.”