LOS ANGELES — Losing UCLA and Southern California to the Big Ten certainly wasn’t ideal for the Pac-12, but commissioner George Kliavkoff strongly defended the conference’s strength Friday.
At Pac-12 football media day at the Novo Theater, Kliavkoff made his first public comments since announcing a month ago that UCLA and USC would jump to the Big Ten in 2024.
Kliavkoff said the conference was “very disappointed” by those schools’ decisions, but added, “Moving forward, we feel highly about the future of the Pac-12 and our opportunities for long-term growth, stability and success.” Our conference boasts 10 of the most iconic and innovative brands across all sports, all-around excellence in academics and athletics, and half of the most valuable markets in this country.”
Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 is “actively exploring expansion opportunities” and that the conference continues to “increase the value of our media rights.”
The future of the conference has been a hot topic of discussion over the past month as Los Angeles schools continue to reopen. Many scenarios have been openly discussed, including more schools going to the Big Ten; Cooperation with ACC; or even some schools – including Colorado – joining the Big 12.
In response to that conversation, Kliavkoff said, “I focus on what we can control, and what we can control is doing everything we can to make the Pac-12 healthy and strong, and the 10 of us do it together. That is exactly what I focus on. “I don’t pay attention to what other conferences are doing.”
CBS Sports reported earlier this week that the Big Ten is weighing California, Oregon, Stanford and Washington as possible additions. “We have not received any official offers from any other conference,” Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir said Friday.
Meanwhile, at Big 12 media day earlier this month, new commissioner Brett Yormark said of the conference realignment: “One thing’s for sure: The Big 12 is open for business.”
That comment led to more speculation that some Pac-12 schools might move to the Big 12, prompting Kliavkoff to throw his own quick shot.
“As far as the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that,” he said. “We haven’t decided if we’re going to shop there yet.”
Kliavkoff later said, “This record was a reflection of the fact that I spent four weeks trying to defend the rest of our conference against the incoming grenades from every corner of the Big 12 trying to destabilize the rest of our conference. And I understand why they do that. I understand this when looking at the relative media value between the two conferences. I understand why they are afraid. I understand why they’re trying to destabilize us, but I’m sick of it. And that’s probably not the most collegial thing I’ve ever said.”
Kliavkoff’s overall message was one of optimism for a conference with an uncertain future. Its future will be determined primarily by the possibility of keeping the remaining 10 schools together.
“We’ve had two board meetings a week for the last four weeks and we’ve looked my colleagues in the eye and understand their commitment and their first priority is to make sure the Pac-12 survives and thrives and grows and that they’re successful,” he said. “They are committed to the conference.”
The next round of media rights negotiations will be critical to maintaining this commitment.
In response to the L.A. schools desegregation, the Pac-12 opened a 30-day window to negotiate with current media partners ESPN and Fox. Once that window closes next week, the Pac-12 could take negotiations to the open market. Kliavkoff said it is “highly likely” the Pac-12 will partner with a major digital company for some of the rights.
The Big Ten is currently in the final stages of a new media rights deal, and Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 “is in the enviable position of being next to the Big Ten market. There is already serious interest from potential partners.
“This process will accelerate once the Big Ten deals are completed and will likely take months to complete.”
Kliavkoff said he believes the Pac-12 is “pretty well positioned” despite the loss of UCLA and USC.
“While the value of premium college sports rights continues to increase, with numerous interested media partners and limited opportunities, particularly in the west, we are confident in the long-term value of our rights,” he said.
Regarding the expansion, Kliavkoff declined to name specific schools, but said, “We will look at media value, athletic strength, academic and cultural fit and geography in terms of recruiting and the student-athlete experience. As you would expect, we have had serious interest and are in the process of evaluating opportunities.”
Kliavkoff also said losing UCLA and USC doesn’t mean the Pac-12 will stop playing in Los Angeles just yet.
“I think there are different ways to approach being part of Southern California,” he said. “We can play a lot of soccer games in Los Angeles.”