Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff found himself in one of the most unenviable jobs in sports on Friday, as he was asked at Pac-12 Media Day to answer for a conference facing its most crucial moment in its 107-year history.
Though he tried earnestly to focus his remarks to league, and collegiality-oriented goals, Kliavkoff just couldn't hide his frustration. He lashed out at the first question about College Football Playoff access in a post-USC world and declined to answer others about the machinations of USC's departure. However, he saved most of his ire for the other warring conference with impending media rights negotiations.
"As for the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that. We haven't decided if we're going shopping there yet," Kliavkoff said in response to statements made by new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark at his inaugural media days event, drawing chuckles from the contingent of reporters.
The Pac-12 and Big 12 have been warring since June, when USC and UCLA announced their shocking decision to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten by 2024. Less than a week later, CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd reported that the Big 12 was targeting as many as six Pac-12 schools as expansion targets, with Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah taking center stage.
Kliavkoff's Pac-12 has quickly gone on the offensive. The conference has been "actively exploring expansion opportunities," Kliavkoff said, marking the same strategy that kept the Big 12 afloat after Texas and Oklahoma announced plans a year ago to leave for the SEC. However, the expansion battle is turning into an existential game of Risk with tens of millions of television dollars on the line.
"That remark was a reflection of the fact that I've been spending four weeks trying to defend against grenades that have been lobbed in from every corner of the Big 12 trying to destabilize our remaining conference," said Kliavkoff. "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 us. I was just tired of that."
The Pac-12 is in the midst of a 30-day negotiating window with ESPN and Fox ending on Aug. 4. In addition to the linear networks, the Pac-12 is looking to streaming platforms and other digital offerings to potentially increase the value of the league's media rights contract.
However, the Pac-12 does not anticipate reaching any kind of television deal until the Big Ten finalizes its contract in the coming weeks. Even then, signing a contract could take months. Hanging over the conference are potential overtures from the Big Ten to four other Pac-12 schools: Cal, Oregon, Stanford and Washington.
The Pac-12 television contract expires in 2024, and the league plans to create new television properties and deeply explore expansion to try and maximize its payouts. It's unclear, though, what level of revenue the league can expect with its blue-blood brands heading east and a plethora of scenarios hanging over the rest of the league.
Regardless, Kliavkoff said he remained optimistic about his conference's future.
"We've had two board meetings a week for the last four weeks," he said. "Looking my colleagues in the eye, understanding their commitment, that their first priority is making sure that the Pac-12 survives, thrives, grows and is successful.
"They're committed to the conference. I think the best thing to do is ask them about it."