Pac-12 commissioner optimistic for conference after USC, UCLA leave

Jul 21, 2023, 5:35 PM

George Kliavkoff...

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff attends a game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins during the Pac-12 Conference basketball tournament semifinals at T-Mobile Arena on March 11, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — George Kliavkoff was one day short of his one-year anniversary as the Pac-12 Conference commissioner, finally on the second day of his first vacation when he got the shocking news that USC and UCLA were leaving for the Big Ten.

He was driving from Montana to Idaho, but was unaware of the 90 text messages populating his cellphone because there was no reception in that area.

Kliavkoff quickly cut his vacation short, flying back to Las Vegas the following day to tackle a topic that more than a year later continues to shape the Pac-12’s future. The two schools in the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area officially depart next year, and the Pac-12 is still trying to cope with that in putting together a new media-rights deal while also considering potential expansion.

Through it all, Kliavkoff maintained a sunny outlook at Friday’s conference football media day. He said a media-right’s package will be announced “in the near future” and that he was confident the 10 remaining schools plus any potential expansion teams will still be together in five years.

There remains rampant speculation the Four Corners schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah — could bolt for the Big 12 or that Oregon and Washington could wind up joining USC and UCLA in the Big Ten.

“I think there’s been a lot of misreporting and specific targeted messages about the Pac-12 in the last year since we lost UCLA and USC,” Kliavkoff said. “We’ve been taking the high road and not worrying about what the press is saying or what someone on Twitter is saying. We’re really focused on the future of the conference, and that starts with the media deal and then the discussion about expansion and then playing the great football that were playing.”

USC was picked by the media to win the league and dethrone back-to-back champion Utah. The Trojans enter the season among the top contenders to make the College Football Playoff, which could create an unusual — and perhaps awkward — situation if it plays out that way.

“They all wear Pac-12 logos,” conference executive associate commissioner Merton Hanks said. “They play the Pac-12 games that impact the championship game that will be right here in Los Vegas representing the Pac-12 and then the CFP if it’s a Pac-12 team. So we’re going to support them and UCLA the same, and we’re going to be excited about their success.”

Trojans coach Lincoln Riley acknowledged he was looking forward to competing in the Big Ten, but called the Pac-12 “a tremendous conference,” and said it wasn’t “a battle between good and evil.”

He already has noticed a difference when it comes to recruiting, saying USC has been able to expand its base as a result of joining what is mostly a Midwestern league.

“I think that’s going to continue to evolve even more and more as we go on,” Riley said. “I think our kids are excited about playing on the monster stage week in and week out, some of our matchups it’s going to create.”

The 10 remaining Pac-12 coaches are trying to make sense of what this means from a recruiting standpoint because Southern California was such a major target.

One of the big selling points was parents could watch their kids’ games when their schools play in Los Angeles. That pitch will soon be gone.

“We’re still going to recruit that area,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We’re not going to stop just because of what’s happened. We’re going to continue to rely on that area, but report back to me in a year or two. I’ll have a lot better answer on how that’s going.”

The same could be said at the conference level as well.

Kliavkoff is confident today, but tomorrow could bring on a new set of concerns.

His job is to not only to keep the Pac-12 together, but help the conference thrive at a time the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference are pulling away from the rest of the field.

“I think it’s about long-term growth and finding new areas of revenue and continuing to perform really well,” Kliavkoff said. “And, candidly, I think the expansion of the CFP elevates the value of everybody’s media rights, particularly to be one of the conferences that are going to get an automatic bid into the CFP. I think over time, that path that delta has built up over the last 10 years is going to shrink.”

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