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Commissioner George Kliavkoff ‘bullish’ about Pac-12 future

Conference is looking at expansion opportunities

Pac-12 Conference commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at Pac-12 NCAA college football media day Friday, July 29, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Pac-12 Conference commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at Pac-12 NCAA college football media day Friday, July 29, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES – Losing UCLA and Southern California to the Big Ten certainly wasn’t ideal for the Pac-12, but commissioner George Kliavkoff defiantly defended the strength of the conference on Friday.

At Pac-12 football media day at the Novo Theater, Kliavkoff made his first public comments since the announcement a month ago that UCLA and USC will jump to the Big Ten in 2024.

Kliavkoff said the conference was “very disappointed” by the decisions from those schools, but added, “Moving ahead, we are bullish about the Pac-12’s future and our opportunities for long-term growth, stability and success. Our conference boasts 10 of the most iconic and innovative brands in all of sports, all-around excellence in academics and athletics and a half dozen of the most valuable markets in this country.”

Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 is “actively exploring expansion opportunities” and that the conference is continuing to “enhance the value of our media rights.”

The future of the conference has been a hot topic over the past month in the wake of the Los Angeles schools moving on. Plenty of scenarios have been debated publicly, including more schools leaving for the Big Ten; a partnership with the ACC; or even some schools – Colorado included – joining the Big 12.

In response to that chatter, Kliavkoff said, “I’m focused on what we can control and what we can control is to do everything we can to make the Pac-12 healthy and strong and do it together, the 10 of us. So that’s what I’m focused on. I’m not focused on what other conferences are doing.”

Earlier this week, it was reported by CBS Sports that the Big Ten is evaluating California, Oregon, Stanford and Washington as possible additions. Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir said Friday, “We have not had any formal overture from another conference.”

Meanwhile, at Big 12 media day earlier this month, new commissioner Brett Yormark said in regard to conference realignment, “One thing is for sure: The Big 12 is open for business.”

That comment led to further speculation that some Pac-12 schools could bolt for the Big 12 and prompted Kliavkoff to fire his own feisty shot.

“With respect to the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that,” he said. “We haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there yet or not.”

Kliavkoff later stated, “That remark was a reflection of the fact that I’ve been spending four weeks trying to defend against grenades that have been lobbed in from every corner of the Big 12 trying to destabilize our remaining conference. And I understand why they’re doing it. When you look at the relative media value between the two conferences, I get it. I get why they’re scared. I get why they’re trying to destabilize us, but I was just tired of that. And that’s probably not the most collegial thing I’ve ever said.”

Kliavkoff’s overall message, however, was one of optimism for a conference that has an uncertain future. That future will be determined, first of all, by the ability to keep the remaining 10 schools together.

“We’ve had two board meetings a week for the last four weeks and looking my colleagues in the eye and understanding their commitment and their first priority is making sure that the Pac-12 survives and thrives and grows and they’re successful,” he said. “They’re committed to the conference.”

The next round of media rights negotiations will be critical to maintaining that commitment.

In response to the L.A. schools leaving, the Pac-12 opened a 30-day window to negotiate with current media partners ESPN and Fox. After that window closes next week, the Pac-12 can take its negotiations to the open market. Kliavkoff said it is “highly likely” that the Pac-12 will partner with a major digital company for some of its rights.

The Big Ten is currently in the final stages of its new media rights deal and Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 is “in the enviable position of being next to market after the Big Ten. We already have significant interest from potential partners.

“This process will accelerate after the Big Ten deals are completed and will likely take months to complete.”

Kliavkoff said he believes the Pac-12 is “very well positioned,” despite the loss of UCLA and USC.

“With the value of premium college sports rights continuing to rise, multiple interested media partners and limited opportunities, particularly in the west, we are confident in the long term value of our rights,” he said.

In regard to expansion, Kliavkoff declined to mention specific schools, but said, “We will look at media value, athletic strength, academic and cultural fit and geography from a recruiting and student-athlete experience standpoint. As you would expect we’ve had significant inbound interest and are in the process of evaluating opportunities.”

Kliavkoff also said that losing UCLA and USC doesn’t mean the Pac-12 still stop playing in Los Angeles.

“I think there are different ways of approaching staying part of Southern California,” he said. “We may end up playing a lot of football games in L.A.”

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