Is George Kliavkoff bold enough to save the Pac-12? We're about to find out
LOS ANGELES — If you’ve followed the Pac-12 for any measure of time, you basically have a PhD in slapstick comedy at this point.
How often can one conference smack itself in the face? The Pac-12 is Sideshow Bob in a field of rakes. It’s a clown falling from two giant stilts.
Once again on Tuesday, the league ordered from the You Can’t Make This Up department, announcing that it was moving up negotiations for its next media rights agreement, less than a week after its two flagship programs—UCLA and USC—announced that they were bolting for the Big Ten, and the same morning that CBS college sports columnist Dennis Dodd reported that the Big 12 was in talks to pluck four more. While others, including the well-sourced John Canzano, have put some clamps on the Big 12 chatter, it’s clear there will be more movement in the coming days and weeks.
However it unfolds, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff will enter into negotiations down two giant stacks, and perhaps with four more (albeit lesser) to fall, should Colorado, Utah and the two Arizona schools abscond to the Big 12.
This is not what we expected from the Kliavkoff era, which promised big thinking and bold action.
While Canzano reported that a well-placed source said that Kliavkoff “is kicking ass,” the league hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of innovation in the months since Kliavkoff took over. Pardon me if I haven’t been bowled over by the boldness.
Granted, half of the new commish’s job has been cleaning up the messes of former commissioner Larry Scott. But so far, the most audacious action has been the league’s shuttering of its exorbitant home office in San Francisco, not so much a bold move as a no-brainer.
Now, with allegiances split and the remaining 10 schools justifiably looking out for their own best interests, the league wants to speed up media rights negotiations, which were set to expire in 2024.
How will Kliavkoff keep a stiff upper lip when his conference is shaken to its core? That’s the question.
Maybe the bigger question is, how will the pie—however big—be split up?
Kliavkoff’s predecessor, Scott, messed up the equation a dozen years ago.
Long-time Pac-12 fans remember the dalliance with expansion in 2010, when the then-Pac-10 made a half-measure and added Colorado from the Big 12 and Utah from the Mountain West Conference but stopped there. There were flirtations with Texas and Oklahoma that never went anywhere, in part because the Pac-12 would not pony up a bigger chunk to its new neighbors from the East. You know, the ones with monolithic athletic departments and football teams that have historically been among the country’s elite.
Had Scott acted boldly then and offered Texas and Oklahoma–and maybe even Texas A&M and Oklahoma State–the world, maybe his successor wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe he wouldn’t have even had a successor at all.
At the time, Scott was hailed as a hero by some, and as overly cautious by others. There were intrepid steps–a television rights deal that at the time was the most valuable in college sports, the creation of the Pac-12 Network. But every step was just that: A step, and not a leap.
Imagine how different the landscape might have looked if the Pac-12 had become the Pac-16 a dozen years back. The SEC almost certainly would have expanded to 16 a decade ago; now they’ll be joined by the two flagship schools that may have once gone west, with Texas and Oklahoma joining the fold no later than 2025. In true bigger-is-better fashion, had the Pac-12 gone to 16 teams in 2010, the SEC would probably be at 20 schools by now, if not 30.
It’s amazing to think about what that decision meant to college sports.
It’s amazing to think about what the upcoming decisions will mean, as well.
If Kliavkoff is ready to think big and bold, the Pac-12 stands a chance. A bi-coastal merger with the ACC makes sense academically and athletically, albeit not geographically. But what are a few hours of extra travel between friends?
Why stop there? A formal alliance between the Pac-12, Big 12, and ACC would give the league access to nearly half of the states in the country.
That’s getting ahead of where the SEC and Big Ten will be, someday. Inevitably.
That’s big business there. That’s bold thinking. Serious stuff.
And all of a sudden, the Pac-12 would be no laughing matter.