George Kliavkoff optimistic about Pac-12 future

New commissioner discussed conference alignment, football emphasis at media day

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff makes his opening remarks during the conference's media day on Tuesday in Hollywood, Calif.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff makes his opening remarks during the conference’s media day on Tuesday in Hollywood, Calif.

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — While the wheels are in motion for a seismic power shift in college sports, George Kliavkoff is optimistic about the position of the Pac-12.

On Tuesday, while Pac-12 athletic directors, coaches and players gathered for football media day at the W Hollywood Hotel, it was reported that Big 12 powers Oklahoma and Texas have officially applied for membership in the SEC.

News of Oklahoma and Texas angling to leave the Big 12 came out last week, and it appears those two national powers will join the SEC at some point in the next few years.

Kliavkoff, the Pac-12 commissioner still in his first month on the job said, “We believe the move by Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC strengthens our unique position as the only Power 5 conference with teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. We have a stable, highly successful, and well-positioned membership with a high bar to entry.

“Given our investments in football and men’s basketball, our historic domination of other sports, we do not think expansion is required to continue to compete and thrive. That said, the fallout from Texas and Oklahoma gives us an opportunity to once again consider expansion. We had already had significant inbound interest from many schools. We will work with our presidents and chancellors to evaluate these opportunities.”

Colorado athletic director Rick George said he didn’t anticipate news of potential conference realignment to happen this year, but said, “Just like everything else, we’ll be nimble, we’ll be thoughtful and we’ll make the decisions that are best for Colorado and what’s best for our conference.”

George added that CU loves being in the Pac-12 that he believes the conference will be “thoughtful about what we do.”

Southern California athletic director Mike Bohn said all the schools in the Pac-12 are well-positioned for the future.

“I think the commissioner made a great point that we’re well-positioned, we’ve got great momentum, people are excited about George (Kliavkoff),” Bohn said. “I believe that the athletic directors and the presidents are aligned and that’s exciting. As he mentioned, we own all of our rights, and it’s just important for us to continue to be competitive.”

Bohn, who was CU’s athletic director at the time the Buffs moved from the Big 12 to Pac-12 in 2011, said without hesitation he believes the 12 members of the conference are strong in their alignment.

“I’ve always believed in the Pac-12 and I still do,” Bohn said.

In the past several days, there have been reports that some Big 12 schools, including Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech, have reached out to the Pac-12. Kliavkoff declined to comment on any particular schools, but said the conference doesn’t feel pressure to add any teams.

“We don’t think there’s any risk at staying at 12 teams,” he said. “We feel very comfortable with our current membership.”

The Pac-12 will continue to monitor conference realignment, but the immediate focus for the conference will be on football, in general, and improving the conference’s opportunities nationally. The Pac-12 has earned only two spots in the seven-year history of the College Football Playoff.

“Unlike conferences with a single dominant team, we often have multiple top teams and significant depth in the conference and a nine-game conference schedule,” Kliavkoff said. “While this has led to greater parity, it has historically hurt us in the ratings and it has certainly cost us CFP invitations.

“I want to be 100% clear, going forward the Pac-12 Conference will make all of our football-related decisions with the combined goals of optimizing CFP invitations and winning national championships. This is a decision fully supported by all 12 of our athletic directors.”

With that goal in mind, the Pac-12 announced the formation of a football strategic working group, comprised of head coaches and athletic directors. Last year, the conference hired former NFL player Merton Hanks as senior associate commissioner of football operations and has now hired Shonna Brown to work with Hanks. She previously worked as associate commissioner/CFO for Conference USA.

“The mandate for this group is simple: recommend changes to our football program with the goal of optimizing for CFP invitations and winning championships,” Kliavkoff said.

Kliavkoff added that the Pac-12 will consider all aspects of improving the football product, including conference schedules, the number of conference games, start times, nonconference schedules and whether or not to continue splitting the Pac-12 into divisions.