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Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff expounds on proposed alliance scheduling model during Utah visit

Last month, the league announced an alliance with the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference, which will feature a scheduling component between the three conferences. What will happen to the Utah-BYU rivalry game?

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff sits on a chair holding a microphone
Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff fields questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

As he promised the day he was hired last June, new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is making the rounds, visiting the campus of every conference member and meeting with athletes, administrators and students.

This week, it’s Utah’s turn.

“I’m in the middle of a listening tour. This is my seventh out of the 12 schools. I’m trying to complete all 12, and I will complete all 12, prior to our next (College Football Playoff) meeting on Sept. 28,” Kliavkoff said. “In each of the places I’m going, I’m trying to meet with all the constituents. ... Really, it’s about educating myself. I came with a lot of background in media and sports and entertainment, but not with a collegiate sports background. … I’m trying to learn what I don’t know. I’m getting great feedback.”

What was Kliavkoff’s impression of Utah’s campus?

“Blown away by the facilities,” he said. “Very impressed.”

Tuesday afternoon, Kliavkoff and Utah athletic director Mark Harlan fielded questions from the media about key issues affecting the Pac-12.

Last month, the league announced an alliance with the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference, which will feature a scheduling component between the three conferences.

“The north star for our football scheduling for the alliance, and it will take us a while to get there, is having eight conference games in each of the conferences, and having one game a year against each of the other two conferences,” Kliavkoff said. “Pac-12 schools would play eight Pac-12 games, one game a year against the Big Ten, one game against the ACC. One of those would be home and one would be away and we’d switch every year. Understand that we’re respecting all existing contracts and all traditional rivalries. It takes a while to get there. The only thing that could really accelerate that in the near term is if we came to an agreement with our media rights partners to go from nine conference games to eight and the Big Ten did that as well. We could start as early as next year if we had those agreements in place.”

If the Pac-12 reduces the conference schedule to eight games, it would obviously impact the number of nonconference games.

What would that do to the Utah-BYU rivalry?

“BYU, it’s our rival. We have a contract out until early 2030. And we intend to honor that, knowing we take a two-year break next year,” Harlan said. “They’re in unchartered waters and we’ll see what develops. And then they may have things. (BYU athletic director) Tom (Holmoe) and I will continue to discuss what makes sense moving forward. That rivalry is great for college football.”

Harlan said as of now, Utah has no nonconference scheduling openings until 2025.

Kliavkoff declined to talk about reported Big 12 expansion. The league could invite four new members, including BYU, to its ranks soon.

Said Kliavkoff: “When we moved very quickly to make our decision about whether or not to add teams to the Pac-12, and then to very quickly to announce the alliance, one of the reasons why we moved so swiftly was that we thought it would give some immediate balance to the Big 12 and allow them to proceed with whatever they needed to do because we felt the vibrations that was going through college athletics after it was announced that Texas and Oklahoma were leaving the Big 12 to go the SEC was not good for college athletics.”

Kliavkoff was asked about the future of the Pac-12 Network. He said there’s a difference between the production of the network, which he said has first-rate content and quality.

“Where the network lacks is in distribution. That’s a real problem for us,” Kliavkoff said. “I’ve read the contracts. If there were a way to fix it in the next three years, I’d fix it. I don’t see an immediate fix to the distribution problem in the next three years.”

Harlan said he’s appreciated the way Kliavkoff has worked with each of the league’s 12 members to discuss solutions to various issues. Kliavkoff invited all the athletic directors to Las Vegas in June for a meeting, even before he had officially started his job.

“He kind of shut the door and he asked questions. Good leaders ask questions. He asked us what were the most pressing issues. What he heard, I think, was we shared our common concerns as 12 schools. How do we get into the Final Four and win it? How do we get into the Final Four in football and win it?” Harlan said. “We’re already collaborating with the other conferences. ... The University of Utah is honored to be in this conference. It was a special moment for us years ago. Having him here is really cool.”

Of course, Kliavkoff was asked about the Pac-12’s mediocre performance last weekend, when the league posted a 6-6 record, which included UCLA’s upset of Louisiana State and Washington’s home loss to FCS opponent Montana.

“I was there for the UCLA-LSU game. I probably chose the right game this weekend. It was unfortunate how the North (Division) performed,” Kliavkoff said. “I think we’ll do better. We were coming off a COVID year. There are teams in our league that played three or four games over the last 20 months, playing against teams that have played as recently as April. Still, inexcusable to lose some of those games.”

No, it wasn’t a great weekend for the Pac-12 but Kliavkoff is hoping to help navigate the Pac-12 through a bright future ahead.