Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff talks UCLA departure at football media day
Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at Pac-12 Football Media Day on Friday morning. Kliavkoff is entering his second full year as commissioner of the conference. (Jon Christon/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Jon Christon
July 29, 2022 6:29 p.m.
This post was updated July 31 at 11:30 p.m.
The Bruins were a focus of George Kliavkoff’s press conference at Pac-12 Football Media Day.
But it had nothing to do with the gridiron.
“As a conference, we are of course very disappointed by the decisions by USC and UCLA to leave the Pac-12 and a century of tradition and rivalries,” the Pac-12 commissioner said.
Kliavkoff is referencing USC’s and UCLA’s moves to the Big Ten in 2024, leaving the Pac-12 with 10 teams on the precipice of its monthlong media rights negotiations period with ESPN and Fox.
Although the move has already been officially announced, Kliavkoff added that it will be rough sailing for the blue and gold in the coming months.
“I’d say UCLA is in a really difficult position,” Kliavkoff said. “Student-athletes, the families of student-athletes, the faculty, the staff, the politicians, the fans, the alumni – there’s a lot of really, really upset people with that decision.”
UCLA has been called out by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said the school needs to publicly explain its decision after leaving the University of California Board of Regents in the dark in the lead-up to the announcement.
Newsom also said UCLA will have to find a way to honor its commitment to California, the other UC school in the Pac-12. Some ideas include forcing UCLA to pay an exit fee to Cal or split its Big Ten revenue with the Golden Bears, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Kliavkoff pointed to a UC Regents meeting scheduled for Oct. 17 – in which the Bruins will have to “defend” their decision to leave the Pac-12 – as the turning point in any final decisions.
“Everything is wrapped up in that,” Kliavkoff said.
For now, though, UCLA and USC will be members of the Pac-12 for at least the next two years.
Big 12 relations
Multiple outlets have reported the Pac-12 had talks with the Big 12 about a potential partnership earlier in July, but those talks have since stalled.
According to Kliavkoff, those talks did not end “collegially.”
“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,” Kliavkoff said.
The Big 12 – set to lose Oklahoma and Texas to the Southeastern Conference in 2023 – is reportedly interested in adding a number of the remaining Pac-12 schools, including Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado.
In fact, new Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark said recently that he has a clear intent to expand his conference, noting that the conference is “open for business” amid Pac-12 rumors.
“With respect to the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that,” Kliavkoff said. “We haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there or not yet.”
Kliavkoff said the talk from the Big 12 is just that: talk.
“I understand why they’re doing it when you look at the relative media value between the two conferences,” Kliavkoff said. “I get why they’re scared.”
The Big 12 made over $100 million less than the Pac-12 in 2021, according to FootballScoop, but managed to dole out more money per school in its conference.
Conference expansion and realignment
With or without the Big 12, the Pac-12 won’t sit idly by after losing two schools.
Kliavkoff said the conference will be aggressive in filling the spots left by UCLA and USC. The second-year commissioner acknowledged the possibility of expansion in his opening statement, saying there have been both inbound and outbound conversations with specific teams about joining the conference.
The top factor in any potential shopping list for the conference, according to Kliavkoff, is media value. The Pac-12 still has two of the most valuable brands in football in Oregon and Washington – the only two conference teams to make the College Football Playoff – but took a hit in losing its two schools from the country’s second-biggest market.
Kliavkoff said he will also consider athletic prowess, academics and geography in any decision to add to the 10 teams left in the Pac-12.
“We’re very focused, I think uniquely, in thinking about the effect on student-athletes when we add schools,” Kliavkoff said. “We think about travel and about what we’re going to put our student-athletes through if we expand geographically too far away.”
Several Mountain West teams, such as San Diego State and Fresno State, have been floated as potential Pac-12 additions.
There also remains the possibility that the Pac-12 loses more schools too, even to the Big Ten again. A recent report linked Oregon, Washington, California and Stanford to UCLA’s new conference.
“I’m focused on what we can control,” Kliavkoff said. “What we can control is to do everything we can to make the Pac-12 healthy and strong and to do it together, the 10 of us.”
Media rights negotiations
The conference is currently in a 30-day negotiating window that will prove crucial to its future.
Former Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott negotiated the conference’s last media rights contract, a deal that locked the Pac-12 with ESPN and Fox for 12 years. Since then, other conferences on shorter deals have been able to lock down more money, leaving the Pac-12 behind other conferences – such as the Big Ten and the SEC – in terms of revenue.
The Big Ten is also in current negotiations on a media rights deal, an agreement that is expected to go over $1 billion per year and net member schools somewhere in the range of $100 million each.
Kliavkoff said following the Big Ten’s deal will be beneficial for the Pac-12.
“We are in the enviable position of being next to market after the Big Ten,” Kliavkoff said. “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 added that the conference has received great interest from the incumbents, ESPN and Fox, as well as new nontraditional digital media sources.
“I would say it’s highly likely that we will end up with a big digital partner for some of our rights and that our rights will be distributed in a way that’s unique, different and new,” Kliavkoff said. “We’re excited about that.”