Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff at Pac-12 Media Day in 2022. Jul 29, 2022; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks during Pac-12 Media Day at Novo Theater. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

One interesting part of the fallout from UCLA and USC leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten has nothing to do with that latter conference at all. In the wake of the Bruins’ and Trojans’ planned departures ahead of the 2024-25 football season , there’s been a lot of discussion about the Big 12 raiding some remaining Pac-12 schools. And at Big 12 Media Days on July 13, new commissioner Brett Yormark said “We are open for business.” Well, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff fired off a shot of his own in response to Yormark at Pac-12 Media Day Friday, saying on the Big 12, “We have not yet decided if we’re going shopping there yet or not”:

That clip, from ESPN’s SportsCenter Friday, shows the context of Kliavkoff‘s remarks (which drew a lot of reaction). They came in response to a question about Yormark‘s specific quote and also Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren not ruling out future expansion. Here’s everything Kliavkoff (who took over as Pac-12 commissioner from Larry Scott last summer) said in response to that question, which ended with “What gives you confidence that the 10 remaining schools are going to stay in this conference?”

“We’ve had two board meetings a week for the last four weeks, looking my colleagues in the eye, understanding their commitment, and that their first priority is making sure that the Pac-12 survives and thrives and grows and is successful. They’re committed to the conference. And I think the best thing to do is to ask them about it. 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.”

And there’s a second question later in that clip, “Do you think the days of trying to be collegial when it comes to expansion are over?” (Whether expansion moves have ever been “collegial” is a matter of debate, especially with some past rounds destroying entire conferences, but the reporter who asked that apparently finds the current atmosphere less collegial than what’s happened in the past.) Here’s what Kliavkoff said in response to that:

“I hope they’re not over, but they’re certainly harmed. That remark was a reflection of the fact that I’ve been spending four weeks trying to defend against grenades lobbed in from every corner of the Big 12, trying to destabilize our remaining conference. 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. I get why they’re trying to destabilize us. I was just tired of that. Yeah, that’s probably not the most collegial thing I’ve ever said.”

There’s a lot of important background to consider with this. Since the June 30 news of USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12 ahead of the 2024 football season, there’s been a lot of discussion of further exits. That’s included reports of four Pac-12 teams (Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah) meeting with Big 12 officials, with Oregon and Washington also mentioned as potential Big 12 targets (if they don’t follow USC and UCLA to the Big Ten). So while Yormark’s “open for business” comments didn’t specifically mention the Pac-12 (and, in fact, came at the same time as a Pac-12 statement that their board of directors “authorized the Conference to explore all expansion options”), they certainly can be read as a particular target on the Pac-12, and the question here posed them that way. Thus, Kliavkoff’s quote may not have been “the most collegial thing I’ve ever said,” but it came from a direct question referencing Yormark’s quote, not out of the blue.

The part of Kliavkoff’s comments that perhaps bears more third-party scrutiny is the “When you look at the relative media value between the two conferences, I get it, I get why they’re scared.” There is no truly established “relative media value” between the Pac-12 and the Big 12 at the moment, as the current media deals were done before two schools from each conference announced plans to leave (Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12, USC and UCLA in the Pac-12). And what the actual media values will look like when new deals are struck will depend on the makeup of both conferences at that time.

But under the current deals, the Pac-12 paid its schools the least ($19.8 million per school) of the Power Five conferences in 2021. And that’s not going to get better from two schools in the important L.A. TV market leaving. Sure, it could get better from a different media deal, perhaps especially one that sells off the Pac-12 Networks. And the Pac-12 does have some specific advantages relative to the Big 12, particularly in its time zones; it can do late-night kickoffs (valuable for networks, even if coaches whine about them) much more easily. And we don’t know what a media deal looks like for the new-look Big 12 (the 10 current schools, minus Texas and Oklahoma, plus BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston). So maybe Kliavkoff is right and they are in a better place. At the moment, though, that’s all just based on his comments about potential media deals, and a lot could change before those deals are actually struck.

It’s also worth keeping in mind Kliavkoff’s bias as Pac-12 commissioner here. And it’s worth remembering that despite his “looking my colleagues in the eye” remark, there’s been lots of chatter about those colleagues and institutions at least considering pastures elsewhere that might be greener. His comments here are fine, and probably reasonable things for someone in his position to state; they’re an attempt to portray his conference as at least stable and potentially an aggressor rather than a target. But they should not be taken as complete proof that the Pac-12 is set to be stronger than the Big 12. What they are is an indication that he, at least, is going to fight to maintain and possibly expand his own conference, and perhaps even make offers to Big 12 schools. Which schools, and whether those schools would accept a Pac-12 offer, remains up for debate.

[The Comeback on Twitter; photo from Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.