In Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff’s first appearance with the media since USC and UCLA announced their 2024 departure to the Big Ten, the L.A. schools’ move was a primary topic of discussion.
At Friday’s Pac-12 Football Media Day, typically a time for the conference to celebrate its past season and look forward to the next, there was more frustration about the future than excitement.
“As a conference, we are of course very disappointed by the decisions by USC and UCLA to leave the Pac-12 and a century of tradition and rivalries after 2024,” Kliavkoff said.
When asked whether USC “misled” the Pac-12 with its decision, Kliavkoff declined to answer the question.
“I’m not going to talk about that,” Kliavkoff said. “We’re going to take the high road and not talk about what happened in the past. We’re very, very focused on the future. We’re focused and confident in the 10 schools that remain in the Pac-12 being together, growing and succeeding as a group.”
When it came to UCLA, however, Kliavkoff was not as willing to focus solely on the future.
Kliavkoff stated that UCLA’s departure in particular is being met with a lot of “very, very, very unhappy people,” including UCLA’s own student-athletes and staff. Regardless of the bridges UCLA may have burned with its decision, Kliavkoff is still open to the possibility of the Bruins returning to the conference.
“There’s a lot of really, really upset people with that decision,” Kliavkoff said. “There’s a hearing coming up about that decision. I can’t give you a percentage chance. I think it’s unlikely. But if they came back, we’d welcome them back.”
Once the teams join the Big Ten, Kliavkoff said football recruiting will remain “neutral” for USC and UCLA. Some players will want to play in the Big Ten and some players will be put off by the burden of traveling halfway across the country to play conference games, according to Kliavkoff. However, Kliavkoff believes recruiting for all other sports will be a different story.
“From feedback I’ve gotten from decisions that recruits have already made and recruits have said to coaches of the 10 remaining [Pac-12] schools,” Kliavkoff said, “actually we think the 10 remaining schools are going to significantly benefit in recruiting from UCLA and USC’s decision in every sport other than football.”
The reality of the Pac-12′s recruiting future is more unclear than Kliavkoff let on. USC and UCLA left the conference in large part due to a Big Ten TV deal that could dish out around $100 million to each school, according to ESPN’s Heather Dinich. The Pac-12 was expected to sign a TV deal worth half that and, without USC and UCLA, there is no telling how much that deal has plummeted.
A lackluster TV deal would mean less resources for recruiting and, with more than twice the annual media revenue as the Pac-12, USC and UCLA could eventually have a monopoly on the West Coast’s recruiting grounds.
To curb potential animosity between the L.A. schools and the rest of the Pac-12, Kliavkoff has “instructed everyone at our conference to make sure that USC and UCLA student-athletes are given every opportunity to compete and succeed for as long as they remain in the Pac-12.”
Once the L.A. schools are gone, though, the Pac-12 is looking to do all it can to replace the lost market. Kliavkoff stressed the significance of the region to the Pac-12, but he would not specify how the conference would retain the Southern California footprint.
“Southern California is really important to us,” Kliavkoff said. “I think there are different ways of approaching staying part of Southern California. We may end up playing a lot of football games in L.A.”
In the face of potential Pac-12 extinction, Kliavkoff is open to adding new schools to the conference to make up for the impending loss. No specific schools were mentioned, but Kliavkoff responded to Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark’s statement from earlier this month that the Big 12 is “open for business.”
“With respect to the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that,” Kliavkoff said. “We haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there or not yet.”
The Big 12 was the first conference to take a hit during this round of college football realignment. Last year, Texas and Oklahoma announced their scheduled departure to the SEC in 2025.
The Big 12 will be adding four schools in 2023 to fill the void that Texas and Oklahoma left, but Kliavkoff said that the Big 12 did not want to stop there. The Pac-12 has fought against the Big 12′s recent efforts to “destabilize” and poach the conference’s remaining teams, according to Kliavkoff.
“I understand why they’re doing it, when you look at the relative media value between the two conferences,” Kliavkoff said. “I get it, I get why they’re scared, why they’re trying to destabilize it. I was just tired of that.”
What happens with the future of the Pac-12 is anyone’s guess. USC and UCLA have their exit plan. Kliavkoff and the rest of the conference are still scrambling to create theirs.