The ongoing saga of the Pac-12’s media rights negotiations largely dominated the conversation during commissioner George Kliavkoff’s media Q&A session to open Pac-12 football media day Friday in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan reasserted the school’s commitment to the conference, while Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham gave an update on quarterback Cam Rising’s readiness for Utah’s season opener.

Here are five early takeaways from the day’s conversations:

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Pac-12’s media rights deal

Kliavkoff stressed to the media members on hand that the Pac-12 schools are on board and unified in their pursuit of securing a strong media rights deal, amid reports that the process could destabilize the league and have members looking to leave, perhaps to the Big 12.

“The longer we wait for our media deal, the better our options are, Kliavkoff said.

As for a timeline on when the TV deal will come together, the commissioner said that patience from school officials will be rewarded with an announcement “in the near future.”

“We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season,” he said.

Kliavkoff emphasized that there is plenty of optimism surrounding the 2023 season — as many as five schools are being projected to be ranked in the preseason top 25, and the Pac-12 returns six of its top quarterbacks, including reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams of USC.

“We aren’t announcing the media deal today on purpose because I want the focus to be on football,” he said.

When asked later to clarify about his wording of “on purpose,” implying that a deal is already done, he added, “I think you’re reading too much into that. We want the focus to be on football today.”

Potential conference expansion

The topic of Pac-12 expansion has been hotly debated and discussed since the announcement last summer that USC and UCLA will leave the conference for the Big Ten in summer 2024.

San Diego State and SMU have been the two schools most linked to the conference, if the Pac-12 chooses to expand.

Kliavkoff reiterated that any possible expansion will not happen until after the media rights deal is secured.

“Our sequence remains unchanged. First, we will conclude our media rights deals, then our schools will sign our grant of rights, which has already been negotiated, and only then will we decide on potential expansion,” he said.

Concerns over Big 12 poaching

When asked about reports that the Big 12 has been in talks with Pac-12 schools about leaving to join the Big 12, Kliavkoff expressed that it isn’t a concern for his league.

“Our schools are committed to each other and the Pac-12,” he said.

He added “we’ve got bigger fish to fry” regarding other challenges facing college athletics. “We’ll work together to make college athletics better.”

Utah’s commitment to the Pac-12

Utah’s Harlan joined Kliavkoff and Pac-12 senior associate commissioner Merton Hanks on stage during the second half of Kliavkoff’s Q&A session.

During that time, the Utah AD reinforced Utah’s commitment to the league.

“Our words and actions speak for themselves. We are a proud member of this conference and look forward to its future success,” he said.

Later, Kliavkoff was asked if Utah’s success since it joined the conference from the Mountain West in 2011 is encouraging when considering other potential expansion candidates.

“It’s really exciting when you find a team that can come in the conference and can invest the way that Utah invested and have the success that they’ve had. What a blessing. It’s terrific,” the commissioner said.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham speaks at the NCAA college football Pac-12 media day Friday, July 21, 2023, in Las Vegas. | Lucas Peltier, Associated Press

Cam Rising’s injury status

Utah was the first school to take the podium after Kliavkoff’s remarks, with Whittingham, Rising and safety Cole Bishop representing the university.

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Whittingham was immediately asked to give an update on Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe, who are coming back and rehabbing from torn ACLs.

Kuithe was hurt in late September last year, while Rising went down during the Utes’ loss in the Rose Bowl.

“Cam and Brant are both right on track with their rehab. Brant is obviously a couple months ahead, he had the surgery a few months prior to Cam. We fully expect Brant to be ready for the season,” Whittingham said.

“Cam is going to come right down to the wire. Will he be ready for the opener? We’ll have to find out.”

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