Pac-12 media day: George Kliavkoff fires back at Big 12, expresses desire to expand

Pac-12 commissioner was making first public comments since UCLA, USC announced intentions on June 30 to join Big Ten in 2024.

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 • It’s been a little over two weeks since Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark seemed to take a shot at the suddenly wounded Pac-12, declaring his conference “open for business” when it comes to expansion and realignment.

On Friday, George Kliavkoff finally fired back.

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

That last soundbite got the attention of everyone listening at The Novo Theater on Friday after Kliavkoff opened Pac-12 media day with some rather tepid remarks.

Speaking publicly for the first time since UCLA and USC announced their respective intentions to leave his conference for the Big Ten on June 30, the second-year commissioner is “disappointed” they’re leaving. He cited the tradition and rivalries cultivated over the last century, using the whole thing to express his belief that college sports have “collectively lost sight of the student-athlete.”

Just as the Pac-12 has been painted over the last month as ripe to be raided until it no longer exists, Kliavkoff’s comments could be described as tepid in the face of crisis.

Then Kliavkoff got serious when asked what gives him confidence that his 10 remaining schools will want to stay.

“We’ve had two board meetings a week for the last four weeks,” Kliavkoff said. “Looking my colleagues in the eye, understanding their commitment, that their first priority is making sure that the Pac-12 survives, thrives and grows and is successful. They’re committed to the conference. I think the best thing to do is to ask them about it.”

That’s when Kliavkoff indicated the Pac-12 would be shopping.

It was a clear shot at new Big 12 commissioner Yormark, who said at his introductory press conference on July 13 that his conference is “open for business.” When Yormark said that, it was viewed as an act of aggression, pointed at the Pac-12, which lost both Los Angeles schools a month ago, and now has an uncertain future.

On a dime, Kliavkoff went from tepid to the aggressor himself, standing up for his conference after it spent the last month attached to the perception that, without the two Los Angeles schools, it may cease to exist.

Instead, Kliavkoff reiterated what his athletic directors have been saying on the record and behind closed doors for the last month: All 10 are currently tethered together, working in unison to fight for survival.

“That remark was a reflection of the fact 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. “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, why they’re trying to destabilize it.

“I was just tired of that. That’s probably not the most collegial thing I’ve ever said.”

To Kliavkoff’s point, the Pac-12 is in the middle of an exclusive 30-day negotiating window for its media rights with its incumbent partners. That window ends on Aug. 4, at which point there should be a better idea of what the Pac-12′s worth is.

The expectation currently is that the Pac-12′s media rights situation will accelerate once the Big Ten’s media rights deals are concluded, Kliavkoff adding that the process will likely take months to complete. If one chooses to describe the overarching situation as Pac-12 vs. Big 12, one important factor, as Kliavkoff noted, is that the Pac-12 is next-to-market after the Big Ten. The Big 12, meanwhile, does not go to market until next year.

Kliavkoff also noted the Pac-12 is “actively seeking expansion opportunities,” but declined to elaborate, save for him shooting down a full merger with the Mountain West as an option.

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