LOS ANGELES — After weeks of speculation about the future of the Pac-12 following USC and UCLA’s decisions to leave for the Big Ten, conference commissioner George Kliavkoff hit back at the claim. that the league is on shaky ground.
“We are optimistic about the future of the Pac-12 and our opportunities for growth, stability and long-term success,” Kliavkoff said during the Pac-12 media day on Friday. “Our conference features 10 of the most iconic and innovative brands in all of sport, overall excellence in academics and athletics, and half a dozen of the most valuable markets in this country.”
Several of the remaining Pac-12 schools were mentioned as possible expansion targets for the Big Ten and Big 12, and comments from the two conference commissioners only fueled the idea. Asked about the potential addition of Pac-12 schools earlier this month, the Big 12’s Brett Yormark said the conference was “open for business.”
This did not sit well with Kliavkoff, who pointed to the unspecified projected value of Pac-12 media rights over the Big 12 and dismissed the idea that the Big 12 is a more desirable location.
“As for the Big 12 being ‘open for business,'” Kliavkoff said, “I appreciate that. We haven’t decided yet whether we’re going to shop there or not.”
Kliavkoff’s blow came during a question-and-answer session in which he spoke about his desire for more collegiality among his peers. But he wasn’t going to let what was being said elsewhere go unanswered either.
“I spent four weeks trying to defend myself against the grenades that were thrown from every corner of the Big 12, trying to destabilize our remaining conference,” Kliavkoff said. “And I get 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.”
Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 is actively exploring expansion opportunities and has prioritized “media value, athletic strength, academic and cultural fit, and geography” for possible additions.
It didn’t identify specific schools, but given the stated criteria, San Diego State appears to be the school most likely to be targeted by the conference.
“Southern California is really important to us, and I think there are different ways to approach staying in Southern California,” Kliavkoff said. “We could end up playing a lot of football games in LA”
The Pac-12 is in an exclusive 30-day negotiation window with existing media partners ESPN and Fox over its next media rights deal, but Kliavkoff doesn’t expect anything to be finalized for at least a few months. . The most likely scenario is that the conference’s Tier 1 football rights will remain on linear TV, while another play will be sold to a digital partner such as Amazon or Apple. The future of the Pac-12 network after the next two seasons is unclear.
Kliavkoff told ESPN he was “very confident” the Pac-12 would be solidly in the middle of the Power 5 conferences on a per-school distribution basis, but was unwilling to split the range he was waiting.
UCLA and USC announced on June 30 that they would be leaving for the Big Ten in 2024 after about a century as full members of what eventually became the Pac-12.
Kliavkoff said the conference was “very disappointed” with the impending departures from USC and UCLA.
“That said, USC and UCLA are proud to have been Pac-12 members for nearly a century, despite their decision,” he said. “We cherish our relationship with their student-athletes, coaches, staff, faculty, alumni and fans. For this reason, I have personally asked everyone at our conference to ensure that student-athletes in the ‘USC and UCLA have every chance of competing and succeeding as long as they stay in the Pac-12.’
Asked about the possibility that schools could reverse course and stay in the Pac-12, Kliavkoff didn’t rule that out for UCLA, which has come under public criticism from California Gov. Gavin Newsom for its handling of the defection. .
“I would say UCLA is in a really tough position,” Kliavkoff said. “There are a lot of voters tied to UCLA who are very, very, very unhappy with the decision. Student-athletes, student-athlete families, faculty, staff, politicians, fans, alumni, there’s a lot of people really, really upset about this decision and there’s a hearing coming up [with the UC board of regents] about this decision.
“I can’t give you a percentage chance. I think it’s unlikely, but if they came back we would welcome them back.”