Pac-12’s Kliavkoff still calls UCLA’s exit a major misstep

Like a point guard trying to force a turnover to complete an unlikely rally, Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff stayed on the attack Wednesday to keep UCLA from giving up his conference for the Big Ten.

Kliavkoff said at the Pac-12 basketball media day that among the more than 100 UCLA coaches and athletes he’s corresponded with about the departure, there was unanimous opposition.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone in the UCLA and USC community who is in favor of the move,” Kliavkoff said at conference headquarters, referencing the Trojans’ planned exit for August 2024 alongside their crosstown rivals. “I’ll say I’m probably hearing from people who aren’t in favor, not surprising.”

Kliavkoff repeated what he wrote in a letter to the UC Board of Regents last month, urging the governing body to block UCLA’s move and saying the university would lose money because of its departure.

“We believe that between the travel and coaches’ salaries and some other expenses that you incur when you join the Big Ten,” Kliavkoff said, “that little delta in the media rights deal [between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten] is more than compensated. We stand by these numbers.”

A person familiar with the finances of UCLA’s athletic department disputed Kliavkoff’s numbers, estimating that the increased sales would more than financially offset the increases in travel expenses caused by additional charter flights and hotel nights associated with early arrivals at distant locations .

UCLA is expected to generate between $65 million and $75 million in media rights revenue in its first year in the Big Ten alone. Additional money will come from college football playoff and NCAA tournament spreads, which have been larger for Big Ten schools than their Pac-12 counterparts lately as more teams get involved in these lucrative games.

Some cost reduction would also result from competitions at neutral venues for Olympic sports teams. The Big Ten have assured UCLA that new scheduling models are being explored to reduce travel distances and costs. This could involve using neutral location competition in a centrally located city like Chicago or Minneapolis for Olympic sports teams over several days.

When asked how he would expect to move forward cooperatively with UCLA if his letter helped thwart the Bruins’ wishes, Kliavkoff said, “We don’t thwart anyone’s wishes. It’s not our choice. It is up to the regents and we only provide the requested information.”

Clarity on whether Regents will attempt to block the move is expected at their meeting in San Francisco next month.

Kliavkoff wrote in his letter to the Regents that the situation was “urgent” because the Pac-12 was finalizing a new media rights deal. Some projections say the deal could bring in between $35 million and $40 million per school annually, although with UCLA and Los Angeles’ coveted market share, that number would certainly rise with each deal.

Kliavkoff said the conference’s new deal would “close the gap between us and the Big Ten and the SEC [Southeastern Conference]’ which he described as the first step in strengthening the Pac-12 brand.

“Eventually we’re going to catch these guys,” Kliavkoff said. “It will take a few steps, but we will take a step to close that gap. Then let’s look at the extension. We will look for schools that make sense for us.”

UCLA's Tyger Campbell smiles during practice for the NCAA tournament.

UCLA’s Tyger Campbell, left, smiles during practice for the NCAA tournament March 24 in Philadelphia.

(Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

There was also a basketball season to discuss, which seemed like a welcome distraction given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding UCLA.

Victory in October, never UCLA’s goal, continued to be an annual ritual under coach Mick Cronin. For the third time in as many years, the Bruins were selected to win the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll.

In each of the last two seasons, they have fallen short of those projections. Will this be the season in which UCLA wins its first regular conference title since 2012-13?

There’s a lot to like about these Bruins, starting with point guard Tyger Campbell and small forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. Both seniors are preseason All-Pac-12 first-team picks and could end the season as All-Americans. Cronin said Campbell, who had 32 points in a scrimmage win over San Diego State last week, would be counted for more goals this season.

He’s joined by a gifted freshman class led by guards Amari Bailey and Dylan Andrews, and center Adem Bona and swingman Abramo Canka. Like Campbell, Bailey and Andrews can play both guard positions, adding versatility and making lineups interchangeable.

Rounding out the rotation are junior guard Jaylen Clark and fifth-year seniors David Singleton and Kenneth Nwuba, as well as two redshirt freshmen returning from serious knee injuries in Big Man Mac Etienne and guard Will McClendon. Cronin said Etienne played one-on-one and was closer to a full clearance than McClendon.

UCLA received 26 of 33 first-place votes. Defending champion Arizona (three first-place votes) was selected second, followed by Oregon (three), USC, Stanford (one), Colorado, Arizona State, Washington State, Washington, Utah, California and Oregon State. The media correctly picked the Pac-12 champion 17 times out of 33 attempts. The Los Angeles Times, in accordance with its longstanding policy, does not participate in media polls.

UCLA has finished second, fourth, and second in the Pac-12 in the three seasons under Cronin. The Bruins reached the conference tournament championship game last season before losing to Arizona amid an ongoing drought for Los Angeles schools.

“USC hasn’t won the conference title or the tournament since I’ve been in the league,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman. “UCLA may have won a tournament, a league title. Arizona was up there. We won four conference titles. So our basketball league will survive the departures of the Bruins and Trojans.

Winning a Pac-12 title or two before leaving for the Big Ten would be UCLA’s preferred way of saying goodbye to the conference. Pac-12’s Kliavkoff still calls UCLA’s exit a major misstep

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