CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: A more collegial — but still confident — George Kliavkoff at Pac-12 media day

Jul 21, 2023, 11:41 AM | Updated: 11:43 am

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff...

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff attends a game on March 11, 2022. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — A year ago, the annual Pac-12 media day found its commissioner, George Kliavkoff, in a state of irritation, if not outright defiance.

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USC and UCLA had just stunned the college football world by announcing their intent to leave the conference for the Big Ten beginning in 2024. Rumors and speculation swirled about other Pac-12 schools exploring realignment options, too, and Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark had amplified that speculation by declaring his league “open for business.”

A few days later, Kliavkoff shot back: “With respect to the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that. We haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there yet or not.” He also referred to “grenades that have been lobbed in from every corner of the Big 12, trying to destabilize our remaining conference.”

A year has passed, and in some ways, not much has changed: the Pac-12 still hasn’t announced a new media-rights deal, and therefore still has not binded its remaining 10 schools together via a new grant-of-rights agreement … and therefore rumors persist about certain Pac-12 schools (primarily Colorado) considering a jump to the Big 12.

Kliavkoff, though, was all smiles Friday morning at the Zouk nightclub at Resorts World in Las Vegas, speaking publicly for the first time since December. The commissioner remains confident that no Pac-12 school is leaving for the Big 12, but conveyed that message with a far more collegial tone than he did a year ago, while also projecting confidence that a media-rights deal will be completed in the “near future.”

Narratives around Big 12 poaching, Kliavkoff said, are “not a concern.”

“Our schools are committed to each other and to the Pac-12,” he said. “We’ll get our media-rights deal done. We’ll announce the deal. I think the realignment that’s going on in college athletics will come to an end in this cycle.

“The truth is, we’ve got bigger fish to fry. There are incredible opportunities and also challenges in front of college athletics, and I need to be able to work with all of my colleagues in Division 1, and particularly in the (Power 5), and we’ll do that.

“We’ll move past all the bitter squabbling of the last year, and we’ll work together to make college athletics better.”

With regard to Big 12 rumors, Kliavkoff later added: “I also kind of know where the sources of that is coming from. I discount that, because I know the truth.”

Several media outlets reported earlier this week — citing anonymous sources, presumably within the Pac-12 — that while a media-rights deal would not be completed by media day, the conference does expect to complete and announce a deal in the “near future” and that the patience of Pac-12 presidents and chancellors will pay off.

Kliavkoff more or less repeated those talking points on Friday.

“We’re on track to announce our deals at about the same time everyone would have anticipated and predicted before the news of conference realignment,” Kliavkoff said. “The Pac-12 board of directors has met regularly throughout the process and has been united in their commitment to one another and to the Pac-12, and this commitment and patience will be rewarded with an announcement in the near future.

“Getting the right deal has always been more important to our board and the conference than getting the expeditious one.”

The Big 12 announced a new media-rights deal in October that runs through 2030-31 and reportedly will pay each conference school about $31.7 million per year. That figure has been interpreted as something of a benchmark for the Pac-12.

“What we’ve seen is, the longer we wait for the media deal, the better our options get,” Kliavkoff said. “I think our board realizes that.”

He mentioned an “underlying shift in the media market,” and said the Pac-12 is “long-term taking advantage of that, but short term, it may have provided some hiccups.”

Kliavkoff also addressed the possibility of expansion, though not with any specifics. San Diego State and SMU have long been considered the most likely candidates. The commissioner acknowledged that the Pac-12 has “significantly narrowed our focus to a handful of schools,” but reiterated the timeline for any expansion decisions.

“Get our media-rights deal done, get our grant-of-rights signed,” Kliavkoff said, “and then we’ll consider expansion.”

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

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