Gold: Kliavkoff brings flame-thrower to Pac-12 Media Day
LOS ANGELES — When George Kliavkoff strolled up to the podium to address the Pac-12 Media Day throng on Friday morning at Los Angeles’ Novo Theatre, the conference commissioner bore a nervous but wide smile, not unreminiscent of the famous “Everything’s fine” meme.
Minutes later, after a press conference and Q&A session that was one part stand-up comedy set and one part joust battle, Kliavkoff left a trail in his wake.
On looking at the Big-12 for expansion: “With respect to the Big 12 being ‘open for business.’ I appreciate that. We haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there yet or not.”
On the Big-12 looking at the Pac-12 for expansion: “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. And 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. I get why they’re trying to destabilize us, but I was just tired of that.”
On UCLA leaving for the Big Ten: “I’d say UCLA is in really difficult position. There are a lot of constituents related to UCLA who are very, very, very unhappy with the decision. Student-athletes, the families of student-athletes, the faculty, the staff, politicians, the fans, the alumni, there’s a lot of really, really upset people with that decision and there’s a hearing coming up [with the UC board of regents] about that decision.”
Bing, bang, boom.
Kliavkoff left the collective group of Pac-12 media slack-jawed. This was not Larry Scott tossing out platitudes about a flailing conference.
This was what the conference needed: Strong, assertive, witty.
A year into his tenure as Pac-12 commissioner, Kliavkoff has proved malleable and adept at embracing change, even when that change negatively impacts his conference. Reports are that Pac-12 presidents and stakeholders have been blown away by Kliavkoff’s ability help the conference and its school navigate choppy waters.
But on Friday, Kliavkoff was more than bold in the boardroom. He was full scorched-earth, letting the world know that the Pac-12 is not simply ripe for plucking.
And he didn’t end there. It was about more than just torching the Big-12 and the Los Angeles schools. Kliavkoff took the entirety of college football to task.
“We are at a critical juncture and the decisions we make in the near future will determine whether we head towards a world in which a small handful of conferences are playing professional sports at the expense of tens of thousands of academic opportunities, or we use the bounty of resources available to continue to develop future leaders through sport and to expand financial aid opportunities to more and more student-athletes,” he said. “Despite all the challenges facing college athletics, I remain confident in our collective mission to develop the next generation of leaders, and I remain confident in the Pac-12.”
Those of us used to the Larry Scott Era in the Pac-12 remember a league in a permanent state of catch-up, seemingly reacting to the blowing winds of college football’s new age. Scott seemed to exist in a permanent state of bewilderment; his press conferences were less scorched earth than putting out fires.
Kliavkoff, his league raided, with more piracy thrown out by the day, his top media market now foreign territory, was instead formidable.
Was he blindsided by the UCLA and USC defection? Everyone was. He could’ve sounded bitter—and at times, he was certainly sharp—but he was never woe-is-we.
“Up until very, very recently I thought the discussions were very collegial (between conference schools and the conference) and I think in the last month that has changed, unfortunately,” he said. “I hope that we regain that collegiality because I actually think that’s the way that you solve problems. I know I’m going to put myself out there to be as embracive and inclusive of my colleagues as I can be to try and move us forward.
“I think it’s unfortunate if we go the other direction.”
One thing Kliavkoff said that stands out: don’t count the conference out in Southern California.
“Southern California is really important to us,” he said. “I think there are different ways of approaching staying part of Southern California. We may end up playing a lot of football games in L.A.”
Whichever direction the Pac-12 ends up going, it has a clear leader guiding them through altogether new terrain.