On Friday morning, Pac-12 media days was on a channel not included in my cable package and streaming on an app that timed me out after a few minutes. This came roughly a month after it lost two marquee members, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten. Meanwhile, all of this was taking place during an exclusive media rights negotiation window that ends next week and is unlikely — barring some major miracle — to conclude with a deal.
And yet on Friday, its commissioner, George Kliavkoff stood at the dais and projected strength. What he really did, more specifically, was project.
Of the Big 12, he said they are trying to “destabilize” the Pac-12. (He’s probably not wrong but, you know, the Big Ten is the only league thus far to steal members from the Pac-12.)
Of the Big 12, he said it is “scared.”
“I get why they’re scared,” he added, as his league was actively in trajectory to become a mid-major in short order, particularly if recent reports of Oregon, Stanford, Washington and Cal being potential targets of the Big Ten amount to anything.
Finally, of the Big 12, mind you with his league in the midst of more turmoil than ever, he sarcastically brought up Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark’s recent remarks that the league is open for business.
“I appreciate that,” he said, “but we haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there yet.”
You could see in realtime Kliavkoff racing through at least three stages of grief all within one press conference. First, there was denial. Denial that his league is on the brink.
“We are bullish about the Pac-12’s future and opportunities for long-term growth, stability and success,” he said. (I get it: what’s he supposed to say? But still.)
Then there was anger — aimed primarily at the Big 12.
“I’ve been spending four weeks trying to defend against grenades that have been lobbed in from every corner of the Big 12 trying to destabilize our remaining conference,” he said. “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, why they’re trying to destabilize us. I was just tired of that. That’s probably not the most collegial thing I’ve ever said.”
Then there was bargaining.
“We are actively exploring expansion opportunities,” he said. “We will look at media value, athletic strength, academic and cultural fit, and geography from a recruiting and student-athlete experience standpoint.”
Kliavkoff added there was “significant” inbound interest but declined to name names.
The only step in grief the Pac 12’s new leader appears to have missed and seems determined to skip is the one that is maybe the most important: acceptance.
The Pac-12 projected strength and stability when it has none right now. It projected it has leverage within the market as it negotiates its next media deal when it is clearly tailing the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12, and has very little of it. It projected righteous anger towards the Big 12 and its new commissioner for doing what it thought it needed to survive, when in reality the anger comes from its standing and not toward any deity in particular. (Kliavkoff declined to attack the Big Ten, after all — the league that just stole USC and UCLA — he was so disillusioned.) Ultimately, it seems the Pac-12 is in a much more precarious position than maybe any of us thought.
The Pac-12 may well survive this latest blow in realignment just like the Big 12 may well survive losing OU and Texas, but its future is the shakiest among conferences that fancy themselves in the power structure. The quicker Kliavkoff and the Pac-12 accept their new reality and be realistic about what is ahead, the quicker every party can face head-on the new, ever-changing landscape of realignment.