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Amid massive changes in college football, where will the Pac-12 go from here?

Commissioner George Kliavkoff asserted Tuesday that the conference will be proactive as Big 12 cornerstones Oklahoma and Texas prepare to bolt for the SEC

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at Pac-12 Conference football media day, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks during the Pac-12 Conference football media day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Seismic changes in the landscape of college football — with epicenters located in both the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences — are reverberating in the West, and the Pac-12 Conference is bracing, and preparing, for an uncertain future.

George Kliavkoff, who officially became commissioner of the league July 1, less than one month ago, asserted Tuesday during Pac-12 football media day that the conference will be proactive as Big 12 cornerstones Oklahoma and Texas prepare to bolt for the SEC.

Speculation abounds about the fate of the rest of the Big 12. Will some of the remaining schools, like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, be absorbed by the Pac-12? Will the league expand? Where does this leave the Pac-12?

“We believe the move by Texas and Oklahoma strengthens our unique position as the only Power Five conference with teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones,” Kliavkoff said.

As other Power Five conferences look to expand, Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 will consider expansion as an option. In fact, a lot of options are on the table in this brave new world.

“We have a stable, highly successful and well-positioned membership with a high bar to entry. Given our investments in football and men’s basketball, our historic domination of other sports, we do not think expansion is required to continue to compete and thrive,” Kliavkoff said. “That said, the fallout from Texas and Oklahoma gives us an opportunity to once again consider expansion. We had already had significant inbound interest from many schools. We will work with our presidents and chancellors to evaluate these opportunities.”

The Pac-12’s current television deal expires in 2024.

“We believe our media rights will be even more valuable if there is further FBS consolidation,” Kliavkoff said.

The commissioner said AAU accreditation is not required for potential new schools to the Pac-12. He noted that Utah did not have AAU accreditation when it joined the league in 2011 but received that accreditation later.

“There’s no prerequisites” to joining the Pac-12, Kliavkoff said.

Meanwhile, Kliavkoff didn’t rule out a scheduling agreement with other conferences.

In a Big 12 leadership call last week, there was, reportedly, a discussion about reaching out to the Pac-12 about a potential 20-school merger.

“It is a priority to consider all of the alternatives that have been presented to us,” Kliavkoff said. “And we will do that in a very timely manner.”

Kliavkoff said the league is happy with its current membership and “we don’t think there’s any risk to staying at 12 teams.”

Kliavkoff reiterated what he stated when it was announced in June that he would become the new commissioner — the self-proclaimed desire to get back to winning championships.

“I want to be 100% clear, going forward the Pac-12 Conference will make all of our football-related decisions with the combined goals of optimizing (College Football Playoff) invitations and winning national championships,” he said.

Of course, there are other issues that the Pac-12 is grappling with as the new football season kicks off this fall.

COVID-19

A year ago, the Pac-12 didn’t kick off its season until November due to the pandemic. Utah played just five games as part of its 2020 schedule.

There’s hope that games will not have to be canceled this season because so many coaches and players have been vaccinated.

According to Kliavkoff, nine of the league’s 12 schools are requiring vaccinations for all students. He added that two-thirds of the teams have already achieved more than 80% of their players being vaccinated. Half of those, he added, are above 90%.

“We’re very proud of that,” Kliavkoff said. “We have been strongly encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.”

But if there are COVID-19-related issues, like last season, Kliavkoff said the conference could return to the pre-COVID forfeit policy if a school can’t field a team. That determination won’t be made until mid-August.

Washington State coach Nick Rolovich did not attend Pac-12 media day in person because there was a vaccination requirement for coaches and players to participate.

Rolovich did address the media, and fielded questions, via Zoom.

He explained that his reason for not being vaccinated will remain private. But Rolovich emphasized that he and his team will follow the protocols recommended by health and school officials.

“I’m not against vaccinations, and I wholeheartedly support those who choose to get vaccinated,” Rolovich said. He added that 75% of his players have been vaccinated and he said he encourages everyone to consider being vaccinated.

Name, image, likeness

On July 1, the NCAA’s board of directions officially suspended rules prohibiting athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses.

Individual schools, like Utah, have already announced their plans of helping players capitalize on NIL.

On Tuesday, Kliavkoff announced that the Pac-12 Network is launching a new licensing program to offer student-athletes “highlights and content to any company that is working with any of our Pac-12 student-athletes in connection with their NIL.”

Added Kliavkoff: “We’ll continue to do that from the conference level and work with each of the schools as they work under individual state laws until there’s federal legislation.”

Rob Mullens, Oregon athletic director and chair of the Pac-12 athletics directors committee, chimed in on efforts to educate the league’s players about taxes and finances related to NIL.

“All of our schools have long had robust student-athlete developmental programs. We’ve been providing those services for several years,” Mullens said. “Obviously we’ll tailor those to the new environment we’re in with NIL, get feedback from our student-athletes, from our coaches, and continue to update those programs.”

On the other hand, Stanford coach David Shaw warned that some NIL deals could have a detrimental impact.

“There are a lot of these NIL deals that are not good deals. They’re long-term deals that ask too much of our guys,” Shaw said. “There are agents out there that don’t always have the best intentions. I think that any deal that a student-athlete signs should allow them to grow beyond the deal. … I told our guys, too, that social media is their best advantage, controlling their social media.”

The ASU situation

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards answers questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. Edwards said his team is maintaining its focus as the NCAA conducts its investigation into possible program violations.
Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

Arizona State’s program is being investigated by the NCAA for recruiting violations.

On Monday, ASU assistant coach Adam Breneman was put on paid administrative leave amid the school’s investigation, according to reports.

Not surprisingly, Pac-12 leadership offered a “no comment” when asked about the ongoing NCAA investigation of Arizona State.

Coach Herm Edwards also said “no comment” about the situation. When asked if his team is distracted by the investigation and speculation, he said it’s not.

“We’re a focused football team,” Edwards said.

The Sun Devils were picked to finish third in the preseason Pac-12 poll as voted on by the media.