Swanson: George Kliavkoff will need more than witty answers to save Pac-12

31 Jul 2022 | 08:48

LOS ANGELES – Seeing him on stage Friday at Pac-12 Media Day, you have to wonder if George Kliavkoff is wondering why he’s taking the gig.

Challenges were on the menu a year ago when he was an unexpected choice to take the seat of the Pac-12 Conference commissioner – distributing media rights, producing revenue, raising the profile of the Pac-12. conference – still there.

But those are side dishes now. Appetizer. The main course is the existential crisis that Kliavkoff and Pac-12 face as we know them.

On Friday, in his first public speech since USC and UCLA announced 29 days ago that they plan to leave Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024.Kliavkoff made no hint that he would prove to be a miracle worker.

Yes, with LA schools awaiting departures, Pac-12 is exploring expansion opportunities. The conference will assess, Kliavkoff said, “media value, athletic prowess, academic and cultural relevance, and geography from recruiting and student-athlete experience.”

So, like, San Diego State? Kliavkoff will not specify.

He also talked about other plans, including televised events and new revenue streams from things like the convention’s new baseball and softball championships. And with the Pac-12’s current media rights deal with Fox and ESPN, negotiated with some foresight by previous commissioner Larry Scott, scheduled to close in 2024, he mentioned the Media rights negotiations are underway, which he warned “could take months to complete. “

To be fair, Kliavkoff – who arrived last year, most recently worked as an executive at MGM Resorts International and previously led the launch of Hulu – is a communications officer, not a magician.

But if he does make a move, his speech on Friday is no trouble with his not-so-good-crisis-to-go to waste energy.

With his mouth dry and gripping the sides of the podium on stage at Friday’s event at the Novo Theater in downtown Los Angeles, Kliavkoff describes himself as “optimistic about the future of Pac-12 and the opportunity us for long-term, stable and successful development”.

He also lamented the reduction of collectivity among fellow officials and later stated “we will take the high road”, in reference to the question of whether USC misled the conference on long-term commitment. your own or not.

And though he said he was “very disappointed” by the pending departures of USC and UCLA, Kliavkoff made it clear that, over the next two years, “we are supporting student athletes.” their. Because that’s the right thing to do.”

But then he threw some darts from his heel.

He mocked Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark’s remark that his conference was “open for business.” The Big 12 isn’t just about being able to expand further, Big 12 is said to be watching many Pac-12 shows as a way to strengthen its membership. According to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, those potential targets include Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah and possibly Oregon and Washington.

Kliavkoff was displeased with that report of another potentially devastating raid: “As for the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that,” he said, sarcastically, we haven’t decided if we’re going to go shopping or not.”

“That comment,” he explained later, “reflects the fact that I spent four weeks trying to defend against the grenades that have been thrown from every nook and cranny of the Big 12 trying to cause havoc. destabilize our remaining conference.

“I understand why they did it, when you look at the relative communication value between the two conferences. I get it, I understand why they’re scared, why they’re trying to destabilize it. I just get tired of it.”

But no, he notes, “it’s probably not the most collective thing I’ve ever said.”

It wasn’t the most collective time in college football.

Kliavkoff expressed support for the kids of USC and UCLA, but he also signaled he would be against the Bruins as they defended their decision to leave during the October 17 meeting with the Board of Directors. of the University of California system.

“I would say UCLA is in a really tough position,” Kliavkoff said of the Bruins, who, like USC, have picked up a seat at the table alongside powerhouses like Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State. . There are also reports a media deal that will pay $100 million annually for each member.

“There are a lot of members involved with UCLA who are very, very, very unhappy with this decision,” Kliavkoff said. “Students-athletes, families of student-athletes. The teachers, the staff. Politicians, fans, alumni. There are a lot of people who are really, really upset with that decision. …

“I can’t give you a one per cent chance (that the Bruins stay). I think that’s unlikely. But if they come back, we will welcome them.”

After Kliavkoff, dozens of conference head coaches spoke about adaptability as well as coaches. But their job is not to secure a solid future for a 107-year-old convention, and so they can withstand seismic but inevitable shifts in the changing landscape of the sports. college sports.

“We’ll just have to wait and see when all the dust settles where we’re at,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who is expected to repeat as head of the team. was the Pac-12 champion in the conference’s pre-season media poll. “Things are still unresolved. There is a lot of dust to come. “

Kliavkoff doesn’t share the same sentiments as the change fueled by huge TV money.