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Pac-12 commissioner's shots at Big 12 come off as defensive and desperate

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Pac-12 Conference commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at Pac-12 NCAA college football media day Friday, July 29, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Pac-12 Conference commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at Pac-12 NCAA college football media day Friday, July 29, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff did his best to sound like a man with confidence in his conference’s future on Friday morning.

But anyone who’s been paying attention probably heard his words as desperate and defensive more than anything.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of people out there who believe the Pac-12 still has a chance to survive in the latest round of conference realignment chaos. And, who knows; it very well might.

But there’s also the possibility — it might even be likely at this point — that the conference is in serious trouble after the departures of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten.

It was the Big 12, which has been rumored to be a potential safe landing spot for at least some of the Pac-12’s 10 remaining universities, that drew most of Kliavkoff’s ire on Friday, as he made multiple jabs in that direction.

“With respect to the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that,” Kliavkoff said early in his remarks at Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles. “We haven’t decided whether we’re going shopping there or not.”

Those words, of course, came in response to new Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark saying two weeks ago that the Big 12 was “open for business” at his conference’s media days.

It should be noted that Yormark made clear that his comment then was not solely about realignment and included all areas of business that could strengthen the Big 12. It’s also worth noting that Yormark was much more tactful with his words when asked about realignment.

Rather than targeting or referencing any other conferences, he simply said the powers that be within the Big 12 were evaluating all options and that if the conference made any moves in terms of expansion it would come from the position of adding value and not watering down the conference just for the sake of expanding.

As things progressed on Friday, Kliavkoff became even feistier, saying he had spent the last four weeks “trying to defend against grenades being lobbed in from every corner of the Big 12 trying to destabilize our remaining conference.”

He added: “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, why they’re trying to destabilize it.”

With all due respect to Mr. Kliavkoff, who is, after all, in just his second year in college athletics, I’m not so sure it’s the Big 12 that sounds scared here.

It’s hard to blame anyone in the Pac-12 for being a little on edge right now. The conference is in serious danger of falling apart and there are several reports out there that indicate that the 10 members that remain in the conference are more divided than united.

So Kliavkoff had to do something on Friday that made it look like he and his conference were operating from a position of strength. I’m just not sure that throwing stones at the Big 12 and acting like a big, bad bully actually did that.

Isn’t it the Big Ten, or even ESPN and possibly the SEC, that Kliavkoff should really be angry with? After all, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren flat-out said just this week that his conference had not closed the door on expansion.

And, if the Big Ten does expand again, there are plenty who believe that Pac-12 programs Oregon, Stanford and Washington are on the short list of most likely candidates to get gob-bled up.

But, sure, go ahead and play tough guy with the Big 12, George. It’s already been made crystal clear by your two flagship programs that the Pac-12 and Big Ten aren’t in the same league so there’s no use in trying to punch up.

Some people surely bought into Kliavkoff’s approach on Friday. And maybe he made a corner of Pac-12 country feel better about the current state of things with his comments. He really had no choice but to at least try to make some kind of a splash. His conference’s survival is on the line.

In addition to going after the Big 12, Kliavkoff also noted that the Pac-12 was actively exploring expansion opportunities. Again, it seemed as if that was said to make it sound as if the Pac-12 is in control here. Most believe the opposite is true, though.

It’s already been made clear that no one from the Big 12 is interested in leaving for the Pac-12. And talk of a coastal merger between the Pac-12 and the ACC didn’t seem to have any real steam behind it either. That leaves programs like San Diego State, Boise State, Fresno State, SMU and Memphis, among others, as the best schools available for the Pac-12 to scoop up if expansion is deemed necessary.

Say what you will about the current Big 12 roster, but all four of the programs the Big 12 is bringing in (BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida) — and others, if the Big 12 adds anybody from the current Pac-12 lineup — are more attractive and add more value than any of the schools mentioned above.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Kliavkoff certainly seemed desperate on Friday.

Here was a man lamenting that the collegiality of college athletics had been compromised in recent weeks taking direct shots at another conference.

He even walked that back a little, saying at one point that he was “just tired” of the talk of the Big 12 potentially swiping Pac-12 programs and that those rumors inspired his comments on Friday morning.

“That’s probably not the most collegial thing I’ve ever said,” he added.

Tough times out west. We'll see how much longer they last.

Comments

Tim Orel 1 week, 4 days ago

It's hard to take what he says seriously, because he was absolutely blindsided by UCLA and USC deserting the PAC10 for the Big10++. That's the kind of thing he, if anyone, is supposed to know about. Yes, I know that the Big12 was blindsided by OU and UT going to the SEC, but we're just about to change commissioners and, by all accounts, making a serious upgrade in the process.

I'm happy that the athletes are getting chances to market themselves and to get closer to their worth, and maybe even unionize like Penn State apparently is exploring, but I, like some of the other older readers, mourn the death of rivalries, intersectional competitions and traditions. It didn't have to happen, but I think money and the competition for more money and greediness has inflicted a mortal wound on the golden geese that propped up the system for so many generations. Money can't replace the intensity of rivalries like "The Border War" and intrastate competitions like KU-KSU, which have or will soon fall by the wayside as schools chase money above all.

I'm not quite ready to give up on college sports, but they don't mean as much these days. I expect this rush for money to continually get worse, not better and I'm not sure where it will end; I'm pretty sure I won't like the end product. Yes, that's an old-fashioned perspective rather than someone driven by money, Madden 20xx, EASports, or ESPN. I'll just have to treasure my memories of glorious games of the past, when KU beat OU down in Norman while my friends and I recreated plays in the park, or KU beating UCLA at Memorial Stadium, people like the Ransom Rambler, Laverne Smith, June Henley, John Riggins and other greats from the past who helped KU win many games and occasionally go bowling against teams we would never usually see. As years go by, traditions change. I don't know that I'll look forward to the new traditions; I'm just grateful to be able to appreciate and remember the old ones.

Kenneth Johnson 1 week, 4 days ago

Tim,

I was thinking about writing a response, but after reading yours, I believe you've said it best.

Let me add though, that the best thing that has recently happened to the Big 12 is getting rid of Bob Bowlsby, who didn't do a thing to keep the conference whole.

I agree that Brett Yormark will be a serious upgrade, and I too mourn the death of rivalries, intersectional competitions and traditions, at the expense of MONEY. I've been a KU fan for 70 years, and have authored two books on the Legends of Jayhawk basketball, so am also not quite ready to give up on college sports, as I've done in recent years about MLB.

The only disagreement I have with what you've conveyed, is that I'm not sure I look forward to the new traditions -- all based on dollars and more dollars.

Kenn Johnson (KU '70 MS) Ph.D. - Proud of my two daughters who also graduated from KU, and their husbands who both participated in Jayhawk sports. And they have given me six thoroughbred Jayhawk grandchildren.

Brett McCabe 1 week, 4 days ago

The question I have about the money, and I hear this all the time on KC sports radio - about how much Misery is getting.........what's been the net gain? Is Misery considered anything more than they were before? They've dumped millions into a stadium that is half-empty half the time. As much as it pains me to say this, mu had some competitive programs before, but they aren't any more competitive now than they were then. So what, exactly, is the point? Newer, shinier objects that result in mid-level finishes for your teams? The Wunderkind, Drinkowitz, is predicted to finish 6th of 7 in his division this year. Even with his recruiting, I saw him on a hot seat list. They just fired their basketball coach. All that money didn't help them fill that barren place.

So....what....is....the.....point? How fancy can your weight room be? And does it help you win? Non-revenue sports are locked-down hard on scholarships, which is why there are few dynasties in those sports. More money gets you....what? I'm not trying to be naïve, here, but does the money really make that big of a difference?

Dirk Medema 1 week, 4 days ago

Brett - The grass is always greener? 😉

An article on espn is about him taking shots at the B1G. It does seem that he’s fighting for his job. Mergers with the ACC and Big12 aren’t working so maybe he should explore merging with the mountain west? 😉

Dirk Medema 1 week, 4 days ago

Matt - Good job staying reasonably straight faced in writing this. Reading the the GK comments has me laughing or thinking of sarcastic responses.

Spencer Goff 1 week, 4 days ago

I don’t agree that Bowlsby was somehow a bad commish. He and Neinas both kept this thing alive while dealing with dishonest ESPN, egotistical Texass and Choklahoma, and ridiculous overblown egos from schools on the West Coast.

Have we forgot that before all this we had Thunder Dan Beebe? Mr. UT?

Bob was the right man at the right time. Nothing he could have said to UT or Oklahoma was ever going to appease them.

Hopefully Yormark is the right man at the right time now. Hopefully ESPN has eaten some humble pie.

Kornacoff can talk trash all he wants, nobody in the Big 12 would dare leave this conference for the Pac 12, and you absolutely could not say that when Bowsby took over.

Doug Roberts 1 week, 4 days ago

Laugh all you want, but the Pacific coast, Desert Southwest, and Colorado Rockies are way sexier than the plains of Kansas and Oklahoma, and also-rans of Texas. Keep the pedal to the metal, Big 12, and take no prisoners. Alphas win the day.

Brian Skelly 1 week, 3 days ago

I think the real issue for the Pac 12 is that Oregon, UW, Cal, Stanford all SOUND like they're still targets for the Big 10.

My guess is it's still smart to make strong pushes for "The Corner Four" because of that fact alone. They're also wanted in the Big 12. Not so much in the Big 10.

Go where your wanted and can thrive.

Dirk Medema 1 week, 3 days ago

I’m not so sure the 4corners are wanted. Questionable whether they add value. It is understandable that they would come calling.

Dirk Medema 1 week, 3 days ago

“We haven’t decided whether we’re going shopping there or not.”

Sounds like they already went window shopping and found out their bank account couldn’t afford the merchandise.

While the left coast + might be sexier in some ways, the market says it’s just not worth as much when it comes to college sports and football in particular. It’s so much so that the best available decided to make a virtual move to join the Midwest.

Wasn’t the PAC12 in fifth place even with usc/ucla? It will be interesting to see what they are worth without them.

I also don’t see anything in all of this that is humbling to espn.

Robert Brock 1 week, 3 days ago

Kliavkoff’s mental health seems abnormal; he should seek therapy. Soon!

Rodney Crain 1 week, 3 days ago

How soon we forget that we were the conference reeling with the vacuum of 2 of our premier teams leaving for greener pastures. What did you think the P12 was going to say about the current state they are in? About the B12? Kliavkoff's remarks should not raise any eyebrows. If anything they were expected.

The B12 showed the P12 the blueprint - invite 2 replacement schools soon, that are in top 50 media markets. Merging is the more difficult option and will take too much time. If you can, hope the new schools are not more than 2 time zones away. The P12 has some options but they need to move before they dry up (literally and figuratively, Phoenix has only 50 days of water left. What good is living in a sexier location if you are on fire and out of water?). Midwest can be dull but with the state of things right now, I'm good in the CT zone.

Bowlsby was a big part in taking us from the position the P12 is in now to being stable and secure. He also added strong media markets while doing it, which will add value to our upcoming media deal, benefiting all our schools. At least he did not talk in cliches, trying to overstate his acumen. I am afraid Bowlsby's shiny new replacement is going to leave a "mark" that will stain. We should stock up on some K2R.

Dirk Medema 1 week, 3 days ago

Vacuum is an interesting word; can have very different meanings. In one sense, you have the appliance commonly used in households and buildings. It sucks; cleans up an inhabited space to make it more habitable. Big12.

In another sense, a vacuum is a lack of air. A void that causes the surroundings to collapse and is uninhabitable. PAC12?

Same word, but seems like very different situations

Rodney Crain 1 week, 3 days ago

Always nice to have you chime in Dirk. I think???

Yes it is understandable Kliavkoff feels the "void" like we did when it happened to us. How is that different?

The B12 is more habitable, cause when this happened to us, we vacuumed up teams to make us habitable again? So getting rid of OU and TX cause was a good thing? We were not thinking about expanding before they left.

Dirk Medema 1 week, 2 days ago

Thanks Rodney. The difference seems obvious but always glad to help.

There were at least 4 teams that were candidates for inclusion for the Big12. While they aren’t ou/ut, they are a far cry from the options available to the PAC12. That’s why the Big12 was not operating in a void, like the PAC12 is.

The real issue for the PAC12 is that they were in 5th place even with the LA schools. It will be interesting to see how far they fall without them.

Pamela Shanks 1 week, 2 days ago

A question on the financial part of this...can you afford, as a conference in 5th place (or worse??), to travel coast to coast on a regular basis in all sports? I would think that this fact alone makes joining the PAC12 a harder sell for east coast teams. I don't know at what point the $$$ even out and a net profit is made above your previous earnings. This is kind of like the point made about MU above...shiny facilities that are empty...mid to last place...what's the point? Texas and Oklahoma's future? They can battle MU in the conference standings. That will be fun to watch :). The Big 12's central core/location maybe an advantage in the long run.

If the Big Ten scoops up some of the remaining PAC teams, some of the old traditions/familiar teams remain for UCLA/USC fans who may be feeling the same way we do about the loss of traditions/rivalries/easy to travel to away games.

FYI, lived in Palo Alto, the home of Stanford, and their basketball venue is only slightly larger than LHS/FSHS. When KU played there a couple of years ago, it was most definitely a KU crowd. I bet it was 80-90% KU fans. Tickets were easy to come by and scooped up quickly by KU fans. The football stadium is larger, but not huge. Stanford is an academic institution first and foremost. I bet they are worried and looking, but they may not be as shiny as some think. The Bay Area is Warriors crazed, but after that, sports aren't that big, especially college sports. For a large metro area, the stadiums of local schools (Berkeley and Stanford) aren't that big and mediocre teams mean stadiums are empty. Sometimes, even during "big" games.

Dirk Medema 1 week, 2 days ago

Good observations Pamela, though the Niners, Giants, A’s, and Raiders’ (Oooops, Ouch) fans might disagree a bit on it being just Warriors crazy. Absolutely valid point though that it is very pro oriented. Part of the reason being sexy isn’t particularly relevant in realignment discussions.

The thing that Stanford has going for it is the non-regional alumni base and strength across all sports and academics. They won that all-sports NC many times. Doesn’t hurt that it’s private and doesn’t answer to the Governor.

Pamela Shanks 1 week, 1 day ago

Niners some years, yes. But Chiefs fan caliber, they are not. There are too many other things to do on a winter Sunday in the Bay Area when the weather is nice as it often is. And, yes, Stanford has had success across sports. I lived there when KU lost to Stanford in the tournament. it was awful.....I just don't think that the TV market share generally attributed to a local college team is the same in the Bay Area as it is in other large metro areas. It is a tech heavy area obviously, and that means lots of out of state and out of the country residents. The big tech companies hire internationally, and that shows up heavily in the Bay Area. The market share there is just different than in other large metro areas. As for a national presence, I'll give you that. I just don't think they watch sports on the weekends! Their students are not sports fans and that translates to their graduates as adults.

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