Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff Says Losing Members to Big 12 ‘Not a Concern’

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff Says Losing Members to Big 12 ‘Not a Concern’

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff dismissed the potential threat of conference membership being stolen by other leagues, even as the lack of a new media rights agreement adds a lingering layer of uncertainty to the conference’s future.

Last year, Pac-12 members USC and UCLA accepted invitations to the Big Ten in a shock move that put the conference on shaky ground. Since then, Big 12 leadership – particularly Commissioner Brett Yormark – has not wavered in its desire to potentially add new members. Several Pac-12 schools have been widely reported as candidates, but Kliavkoff said Friday at the Pac-12 media day in Las Vegas that losing members to the Big 12 “is not a concern.”

“Our schools are committed to each other and to Pac-12,” said Kliavkoff. “We will do our media rights deal, announce the deal. I think the realignment that is happening in collegiate athletics will come to an end this cycle.”

Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah were the four Pac-12 schools most commonly linked to the Big 12. Colorado, in particular, has had contact with the Big 12. In Utah’s case, athletic director Mark Harlan was steadfast in the Utes’ commitment to the Pac-12 on Friday.

“We are proud members of this conference and look forward to its future success,” said Harlan while onstage with Kliavkoff in Las Vegas.

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at the Pac-12 media day on Friday, July 21, 2023, in Las Vegas.  (AP Photo/Lucas Peltier)

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at the Pac-12 media day on Friday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Lucas Peltier)

There was unease around the Pac-12 last year, so much so that Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger asked Kliavkoff about the ongoing narrative that the league could collapse. Kliavkoff hinted that the origin of this narrative could be emanating from the Big 12.

“I see the commitment that all our schools have to each other. I also know where the sources for this come from,” Kliavkoff said. “I discount it because I know the truth.”

While Yormark was vocal a lot, Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 opted to “take the high road” rather than engage in media back-and-forth.

“We decided to focus on the future of the conference. That’s why we didn’t get involved,” Kliavkoff said.

Pac-12 will not explore its own expansion until media rights deal is reached

The top priority remains finalizing a new media rights deal, a process that has been repeatedly delayed. The league’s current TV deal with ESPN and Fox expires next July.

Once a media rights deal is reached, the 10 remaining Pac-12 presidents and chancellors must sign a rights grant to keep the league intact. Of course, schools’ adherence would depend on their satisfaction with the new agreement, although Kliavkoff said on Friday that granting rights “has already been negotiated.” But if the deal is not comparable (in terms of financial value and visibility) to other Power Five conferences, namely the Big 12, defections are certainly possible.

Kliavkoff said the longer the conference waits to close a media rights deal, “the better our options are.”

“There is an underlying shift in the media market that is happening. We are taking advantage of this for the long term. In the short term, it might have caused some hiccups,” Kliavkoff said.

The Pac-12 had its own expansion discussions. Kliavkoff said the conference office completed its due diligence on potential candidates “many months ago,” with the focus narrowed to a select number of schools. But the expansion cannot move forward until the media rights deal is in place.

San Diego State appears to have learned this the hard way.

Last month, SDSU sent Mountain West a letter announcing its intention to withdraw from the league. The Pac-12 has been the expected destination for San Diego State, but this apparent arrangement could not come to fruition before the Pac-12 finalized its media rights deal, and now SDSU will remain with Mountain West.

Kliavkoff was asked specifically about the league’s reported commitments to SDSU and whether the Pac-12 has communicated an impending invite to the Aztecs. He wouldn’t go into detail.

“I will not publicize my conversations with any potential expansion candidates,” Kliavkoff said. “I’ll tell you, generally speaking, we’ve never given anyone an indication that anything would be different from the sequel I just mentioned, which is to close our media rights deal, give away the signed rights, and then consider expanding.”

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