Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff isn’t happy about what has played out over the last month in college sports.
That was clear on Friday, 29 days after USC and UCLA announced they will join the Big Ten in 2024, during Kliavkoff’s press conference at Pac-12 Media Day in Los Angeles.
Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 is “very disappointed” by USC and UCLA’s decisions to leave the conference. However, Kliavkoff said the Trojans and Bruins will not be treated any differently by the conference during their final two years in the Pac-12.
“USC and UCLA have been proud members of the Pac-12 for almost a century. Despite their decision, we cherish our relationship with their student-athletes, coaches, staff, faculty, alumni and fans,” Kliavkoff said. “For that reason, I have personally instructed everyone at our conference to make sure that USC and UCLA student-athletes are given every opportunity to compete and succeed for as long as they remain in the Pac-12.”
Kliavkoff hasn’t even completely shut the door on UCLA returning to the Pac-12, noting that it will have to defend its decision to leave for the Big Ten during a meeting with the University of California system’s Board of Regents on Oct. 17. He acknowledged, though, that a reversal of UCLA leaving for the Big Ten is doubtful.
“I'd say UCLA is in a really difficult position,” Kliavkoff said. “There are a lot of people related to UCLA who are very, very, very unhappy with the decision. 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, and there's a hearing coming up about that decision. I can't give you a percentage chance. I think it's unlikely. But if they came back, we’d welcome them back.”
The more pertinent question now is whether any of the Pac-12’s remaining 10 schools will follow USC and UCLA to the Big Ten. Reports this week from The Action Network and CBS Sports indicated that Oregon, Washington, Stanford and Cal could all be targets for the Big Ten as it considers the possibility of further expansion.
Kliavkoff expressed confidence on Friday that the 10 schools still committed to the Pac-12 will remain in the conference for the long haul.
“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 that their first priority is making sure that the Pac-12 survives and thrives and grows and is successful, they're committed to the conference,” Kliavkoff said.
Shortly after Kliavkoff’s press conference, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens told reporters that Oregon is “not chasing rumors” and it has been working with the other schools in the conference on the Pac-12’s next media rights deal. Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir said his school has “not had any formal overture from another conference.”
Oregon AD Rob Mullens on reports of Big Ten interest : We're not chasing rumors. As George (Kliavkoff) mentioned, we've been working hard with, the 10 members of the PAC 10 to keep focused on getting this media rights deal strong. #Pac12 #GoDucks #BigTen— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) July 29, 2022
Kliavkoff made the sales pitch for Pac-12 schools to stay put by saying multiple times during his press conference Friday that he believes subjecting teams to unnecessary travel will be detrimental to their overall experiences as student-athletes.
“When I look at what is taking place in college sports, I believe that we have collectively lost sight of the student-athlete,” Kliavkoff said. “We need to recalibrate our approach to ensure our filter for any decision is what is in their best interest … We should be measuring total financial aid and our ability to provide the highest level athletic competition to our student-athletes without unnecessary travel, time demands and other burdens on competition impeding their academic success.
“We're very focused, I think uniquely, in thinking about the effect of student-athletes when we add schools. We think about travel and about what we're going to put our student-athletes through if we expand geographically too far away.”
“Looking my colleagues in the eye and understanding their commitment and that their first priority is making sure that the Pac-12 survives and thrives and grows and is successful, they're committed to the conference.”– George Kliavkoff on why he thinks remaining Pac-12 schools will stay
Despite that, Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 is “actively exploring expansion opportunities.” While he didn’t name any specific schools that could be candidates to join the conference, Kliavkoff said “we haven't decided if we're going shopping there yet or not” when asked specifically about the Big 12.
At the same time, Kliavkoff lamented a lack of collegiality in college sports over the past month – a comment surely spurred by the Big Ten’s move to poach USC and UCLA after previously entering into an alliance with the Pac-12 and ACC.
“Up until very, very recently, I thought the discussions were very collegial. I think in the last month, that has changed, unfortunately,” Kliavkoff said. “I hope that we regain that collegiality, because I actually think that's the way that we solve problems. I know I'm gonna put myself out there to be as embracive and inclusive of my colleagues as I can be to try and move us forward. I think it's unfortunate if we go the other direction.”
Kliavkoff said his comment about shopping in the Big 12 was spurred by the Big 12’s efforts to recruit Pac-12 schools to join its conference.
“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. “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.”
Whether the Pac-12 will be able to keep its remaining 10 schools intact and grow through its own round of expansion, or whether the Pac-12 will be hit by another round of exits to the Big Ten, Big 12 or elsewhere, remains to be determined. Kliavkoff, though, said he remains “bullish” about the Pac-12 continuing to be one of the power conferences in college sports.
“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. “Despite all the challenges facing college athletics, I remain confident in our collective mission to develop the next generation of leaders, and I remain confident in the Pac-12.”