There’s no way to fix Pac-12 Network’s distribution issues in the next three years, new commissioner says in first Utah visit

Kliavkoff has been on the job since July, and likes what he sees at the U.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP) Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles.

George Kliavkoff has been the Pac-12 commissioner since only July 1. Since then, the former MGM executive has had to get a crash course in college athletics. Even before he officially started the job, he said publicly that he will push to expand the College Football Playoff beyond four teams.

Kliavkoff finally made his visit to the University of Utah on Tuesday, saying he’s in the middle of a “listening tour” and that Utah is the seventh of the 12 Pac-12 campuses he’s been to in person.

“I’m trying to learn what I don’t know and have been getting great feedback,” Kliavkoff said while sitting to the right of Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan.

Kliavkoff said he was quite impressed with the facilities at the university, including the basketball practice facility, the football facility, the football stadium, the ski house, and the softball and lacrosse fields. He also met Spencer F. Eccles, one of the university’s main donors. And the Utes players got chance to meet him at practice.

Kliavkoff and Harlan spoke to media and touched on a number of topics, including an alliance formed last month among the Pac-12, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference.

On what makes Mark Harlan unique as a Pac-12 athletic director

Kliavkoff: “A couple of things. First of all, deep passion for what we do. I took this job because of my passion for what we do for student-athletes, and I see that reflected in Mark. That makes me very happy. The other thing is eight of the 12 ADs in our conference have been in their current positions for less than five years. So I think having someone with the hand on the wheel, has done this for a long time and has done this in other organizations and other conferences and has that kind of perspective to think about what we did really well in other places and bring that into the PAC 12, is unique and helpful.”

On scheduling nonconference games and how that may impact the BYU rivalry

Harlan: “We don’t have an opening until 2025. And I’ll work with Merton Hanks [senior associate commissioner for football operations] and the football operations team under George’s leadership and say, I look at that as that’s an alliance opening. And let’s see within those two conferences if there’s a like match. If that’s prior to the 8-1-1 model or not, we have an opening. We’d like to fill that with an alliance member going forward. If we don’t have the 8-1-1, we won’t be able to do much. As I’ve said before publicly, you never want to be on the end of a phone call when someone says, ‘We’re canceling a game.’ It’s not collegial, it’s not the right thing to do, and oh, by the way, there’s a contract. So from that perspective, BYU, as I’ve said, it’s our rival. We have to contract out until 2030 and we intend to honor that knowing we take a two-year break next year.”

On the Pac-12 moving toward having eight conference games instead of nine

Kliavkoff: “The North Star for football scheduling for the alliance — and it’ll take us a while to get there — is having eight conference games in each of the conferences and having one game a year against each of the other two conferences. So Pac-12 schools would play eight Pac-12 conference games, one game against the Big Ten, one game against the ACC — one of those would be home, one of those would be away and would switch every year. But understand that we’re respecting all existing contracts and all traditional rivalries. And when you do that, it takes a little while to get there. The only thing that could really accelerate that in the near-term is if we came to an agreement with our media rights partners to go from nine conference games to eight, and the Big Ten did that as well. We could start as early as next year if we got those agreements in place, putting one of those games against the Big Ten.”

On the Pac-12 going 6-6 in Week 1 of football

Kliavkoff: “I was there for the UCLA-LSU game. I probably chose the right game this past weekend. It was unfortunate how the North performed. I think we’ll do better. We were coming off of a COVID year, and there are teams in our league that have played three or four games over the last 20 months playing against teams that have played as recently as April. But still, inexcusable to lose some of those games.”

On common themes in his visits to Pac-12 campuses

Kliavkoff: “I think the common theme is great pride in being part of the Pac-12. That’s what I hear from everybody I talk to. The other thing is just what a tumultuous summer we’ve been through, and there are a lot of kind of unsettled issues that we’re working through together. But there’s a consistent message about collaboration, about getting through these issues together. And I think that small steps that we’ve made recently — announcing that we’re not expanding and doing the alliance with the Big 10 and the ACC — I think have been well received.”

On the future of the Pac-12 Network

Kliavkoff: “I think you have to separate out of the production at the Pac-12 network from the distribution. So when I look at the production at the Pac-12 Network — I’ve been in sports television for a long time— the quality of our production, I think, is as good as anybody. Really good camera work, really good editing, good voiceover, play-by-play. And we also do 850 live events. Next nearest conference network does a little bit more than 500 and after that it’s a little bit more than 400. So we’re lapping our competition in the amount of content that we create, and we create great, great content. Where the network lacks is in distribution. That’s a real problem for us. And I want to set our fans’ expectations. I’ve read the contracts. If there was a way to fix that in the next three years, I’d fix it. I don’t see an immediate fix to the distribution problem in the next three years. So I’m very focused on the fact that we’re the only Power Five conference that owns all of our rights and that we’ll have a unique opportunity three years from now to think about distributing all of that content in a way that balances several factors for me. One is obviously the revenue that that distribution will generate. Second is competitive advantage. And the third is just having our content all over the place so that we lift up the conference’s visibility. Balancing those three issues is sometimes difficult.”