Commissioner George Kliavkoff — Pac-12 steady despite USC, UCLA departures

LOS ANGELES — After weeks of speculation about the future of the Pac-12 amid USC and UCLA decisions to go to the Big Ten, Conference Commissioner George Kliavkoff hit back at claims the league was on unstable ground.

“We are optimistic about the future of the Pac-12 and our opportunities for long-term growth, stability and success,” Kliavkoff said at the Pac-12 media day on Friday. “Our conference features 10 of the most recognizable and innovative brands in all sports, comprehensive excellence in science and athletics, and half a dozen of the most valuable markets in this country.”

Several of the remaining Pac-12 schools have been mentioned as possible expansion targets for the Big Ten and Big 12, and comments from both conference commissioners have only fueled the idea. When asked about the possibility of adding Pac-12 schools earlier this month, the Big 12’s Brett Yormark said the conference was “open for business.”

That didn’t sit well with Kliavkoff, who pointed to the unspecified projected value of the Pac-12 media rights compared to the Big 12 and dismissed the idea that the Big 12 was a more desirable location.

“In terms of the Big 12 being ‘open,'” Kliavkoff said, “I appreciate that. We haven’t decided yet whether we’re going to shop there or not.”

Kliavkoff’s push came during a question-and-answer session in which he spoke of his desire for more collegiality among his colleagues. But he also had no intention of leaving unanswered what was said elsewhere.

“I spent four weeks defending myself against grenades thrown in from all corners of the Big 12 to destabilize our remaining conference,” Kliavkoff said. “And I understand why they do it. If you look at the relative media value between the two conferences, I get it. I understand why they are afraid. I understand why they’re trying to destabilize us, but I just got tired of it.”

UCLA and USC announced on June 30 that after about a century as integral members of what eventually became known as the Pac-12, they would be joining the Big Ten in 2024.

Kliavkoff said the conference was “very disappointed” with the upcoming departures from USC and UCLA.

“Despite their decision, USC and UCLA have been proud members of the Pac-12 for nearly a century. We value our relationship with their student athletes, coaches, staff, faculty, alumni and fans,” he said. “For that reason, I personally directed everyone at our conference to ensure that USC and UCLA student athletes are given every opportunity to compete and thrive as long as they remain in the Pac-12.”

Asked about the possibility that schools could reverse course and stay in the Pac-12, Kliavkoff didn’t rule out it for UCLA, which has faced public criticism from California Gov. Gavin Newsom for its handling of the defection.

“I would say UCLA is in a really difficult position. There are a lot of voters associated with UCLA who are very, very, very unhappy with the decision,” Kliavkoff said. “Athlete students, the families of student athletes, the faculty, the staff, politicians, the fans, the alumni, there are a lot of really, really upset people about this decision and a hearing is 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’d welcome them back.” Commissioner George Kliavkoff — Pac-12 steady despite USC, UCLA departures

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