George Kliavkoff’s Brutal Honesty Is What Pac-12 Needs

Jan 7, 2022, 10:34 AM
George Kliavkoff - Pac-12 Media Day...
(Photo courtesy of John McGillen, Pac-12)
(Photo courtesy of John McGillen, Pac-12)

SALT LAK CITY – Being an outsider is just what the Pac-12 conference needed when they hired George Kliavkoff last year to replace Larry Scott.

Scott was an outsider to a degree, but he was still in the sports world as his previous job was overseeing the Women’s Tennis Association.

Scott’s tenure did not go as planned and a lot of that was because he did not put an emphasis on the money-making sports, specifically football. When Kliavkoff was introduced he noted how men’s basketball and football needed to be the “bread and butter” of the league.

Yes, the Pac-12 is the conference of champions and wins a lot of national titles but football is the main sport that helps schools make money.

Scott would pivot to say something about the championships in the non-revenue sports, but Kliavkoff wants the front door of the Pac-12 to be football all while acknowledging being champions in other sports is also a great achievement.

“It can be symbiotic,” Kliavkoff said via The San Jose Mercury News. “We can continue to win at Olympic sports and women’s sports — football can be part of the engine that drives the success elsewhere.

“We have, by far, the most successful athletic programs in the country. But there are two big gaps. That’s winning football championships and winning men’s basketball championships. I am going to do everything I can to elevate those sports to the level of the others.”

Football is king and the conference needs to step it up. The league went winless in five games during bowl season and once again was shut out of the College Football Playoff.

Kliavkoff was not shy to note that this was the worst non-conference season in nearly 20 years with a 9-23 against FBS team, with 11 losses to the Mountain West and BYU. That is not how a Power 5 league should be performing.

Kliavkoff Is Just What The League Needed

The Pac-12 needed tough love from Kliavkoff. The conference is fully behind expanding the College Football Playoff, but that is looking to be years down the road once the 12-year contract is up.

He is also pushing the schools to invest more in football which in turn would not only make the league more competitive but can also raise the profile of the universities.

Being blunt and to the point is what Unrivaled’s Scott Mitchell likes about the new commissioner.

“First of all, I love the brutal honesty. I mean, if you can’t look at a situation and assess it and call it what it is and say what it is, you’re never going to improve,” Mitchell said. “If you’re constantly putting a bandaid on it and say, no, we’re in a good spot. Just give us another year. It’s a building year. Next year, things are going to be good but next year never comes around.

“When you can come out and make a very clear, very bold, very accurate, and very honest statement, that’s really kind of the first step to making change and improving.”

This attitude is much needed and what fans of the Pac-12 want to hear. USC made the investment to get Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma, but the entire conference needs to step up its commitment to football.

Unrivaled’s Alex Kirry made a great point and gave the former commissioner’s version of Kliavkoff’s comments.

“The Larry Scott version of this would be to go, ‘this is a conference of Champions. Do you know, how many national championships who won last year?’ And he started going through men’s tennis.”

Again, winning tennis, water polo, swimming, rowing, and other national titles can be great for a university but what pays for those sports and helps them achieve that success is football. Having these sports plus football and basketball winning titles will make the conference that much stronger.

“He recognizes football pays the bills. Football is that’s the perception. The Pac-12 is probably doing amazing in every other sport and probably they’re probably right in winning championships,” Mitchell said. “There’s a lot of very good things going on in a Pac-12, but the optics the sports that matter, the sport that does matter is football. When you don’t have that, nothing goes on and it doesn’t go on because it’s the only thing that’s reported.”

Investing in football is the obvious memo that Kliavkoff is sending out there and frankly, he is right that the league’s perception would be far better off if its football teams were in the College Football Playoff more than twice since its inception.

Football is a year-round sport and very much so matters, and until more of the Pac-12 schools realize that, the league will be a step or two behind the other power conferences.  

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George Kliavkoff’s Brutal Honesty Is What Pac-12 Needs