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

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.


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