In the final moments of Washington’s 39-28 win over Michigan State No. 11 on Saturday, George Kliavkov stood on the northwest side inside Husky Stadium, wearing a blue jacket and a growing smile. To his right, a short chant rose in the students’ oath, intended to irritate their easily identified target:
Ten adults! Ten adults! Ten adults! Ten adults!
Kliavkoff, to his credit, never turned his head.
However, the Pac-12 commissioner has undoubtedly heard the hype in recent months, as conference reorganization looms, always, over college football. USC and UCLA have agreed to leave for the Big Ten in 2024, and the stadium reported this summer that both Washington and Oregon have had discussions with the conference as well. The Big Ten announced $7 billion for seven years media rights deal with FOX, CBS and NBC on August 18 – a deal that will eventually distribute between $80 and $100 million annually to its 16 members.
Meanwhile, the Pac-12 continues to negotiate its media rights deal — although the final figure will undoubtedly not live up to a potential poacher.
But in Podcast with John Canzano and John Wellner from Pac-12 Hotline Klyavkov said this week, “Listen, I think if the schools (were leaving) for the Big Ten, they would have left for the Big Ten already.”
True, although Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has strongly hinted that he favors further expansion, presidential approval is required to make these moves – and the current Big Ten members don’t seem to be swinging. But even if the opportunity presents itself, is the Big Ten still Washington’s best move?
“All we talk about these days is just money. That’s all we talk about,” former UW coach Chris Petersen said on 93.3 FM KJR Tuesday. “We’re not talking about what’s best for the greater good of the game or what’s best for the kids. I get it, when your budget increases the number of times when you go to a different league.
“So how do you fund the sports department?” “Well, we better get as much TV money as possible.” That’s what really drives things. So when I look at that expansion, and you have two Southern California teams going to the Big Ten, it looks like Is that better? No. I don’t think it’s better for much of anything, other than that they’d get a bunch of money for it and pay a lot of bills.”
Are they, though? It is possible (though unlikely) that the University of California Board of Regents will ban the Big Bruins’ bolt. Klyavkov told Kanzano and Wellner that he requested projections of media rights with or without UCLA.
And what’s even more interesting, is that he suggested that Bruins actually do more money If they stay.
“We believe that the additional money they will receive from the Big Ten media rights deal will be offset by more than 100% additional expenses,” Klyavkov said. “So you end up taking that money you earn and it goes to the airlines, charters, coaches, administrators. It doesn’t go to support student athletes.”
“We are sure they are better off financially to survive and we are sure there are no other criteria in the decision other than financial,” he added.
Of course, it would not be wise to take his word with Kliavkoff, given his position. But it does raise questions about how significant the revenue jump will be for any West Coast addition — including Washington. It’s also undeniable that the Big Ten provides long-term stability that the Pac-12 can’t contend with, with the current UW Conference still in a fight for its life. If UW/Oregon/Stanford/Cal leaves for the Big Ten — or if Arizona/Arizona/Colorado/Utah leaves for the Big 12 — the entire conference could quickly fall apart.
On that last point, when asked if he still guaranteed that none of the remaining Pac-12 members would join the Big 12, Kliavkoff said: “Yes, that’s still the case.”
The soon-to-be-expanded College Football Playoff also provides a compelling case for Pac-12 survival. When the CFP eventually expands from four to 12 teams—whether it be in 2024, 2025 or 2026—automatic bids will be awarded to the six highest-ranked conference champions, all of which ensure a Pac-12 presence. The Pac-12 should provide a much more direct path to CFP, with the alternative being the brutal Big Ten schedule annually.
The Pac-12 has also impressed in off-conference play—with Washington (39-28 over No. 11 MSU), Oregon (41-20 over No. 12 BYU) and Washington State (17-14 over No. 19 Wisconsin) achieving victories over seeded opponents. Overall, the Pac-12 was 25-10 in play without a conference and 13-9 against the FBS competition.
“There’s always a lot of talk about the ‘Big Ten (crushing)’ Pac 12 every year. We are sick and tired of hearing that,” said Alex Cook, UW safety after the Michigan State University win. “Personally, I don’t really care about that. I only know who will line up will get the best of us, and whatever the outcome, is the outcome. But I am very happy that we are able to put the Pac-12 in a better position.”
Suddenly, Kliavkoff could signal progress.
“We are sitting in a place where our school in Los Angeles has not been defeated after not attending a conference,” Klyavkov said. “They got there in different ways, but I would say USC is definitely showing a top 10 offensive. That came from the investments they made last year, not before. That’s great for student-athletes at these two schools.
“Look at Utah. Utah is one game away from being a top five team. I was in the “quagmire” and saw that objection. It was overwhelming. But in fact, they are far from being one of the top five schools at the moment. Then we have four schools in Washington and Oregon for a total of 11-1. Oregon looks great. I was very fortunate to be at Camp Randall to watch Washington State beat Wisconsin in a really tough place to play and win. Last Saturday I was fortunate to be in Washington to watch Washington, with Bayan winning the Michigan State seeded team. That was great. Oregon lost to Georgia, the nation’s No. 1 unanimous team, in a home game in Atlanta for Georgia.
“Just look at the progress we’ve made with the football product. If I thought ‘Are you leaving schools for this conference or that conference?’…Man, with expanded CFP, with the investment and success we’re having, I can’t think of a better path for a national championship.” than being a part of Pac-12.”
This is Kliavkoff’s offer: access to CFP, regional competitions, improved on-field play, handling of competitive media rights with wide distribution to be completed in the “near future”.
But what do you say? In a Twitter poll with 2,122 answers this week, 54.2% of respondents favored Washington joining the Big Ten, while 45.8% agreed with the remaining Pac-12.
On Saturday, No. 18 Washington (3-0) will try to remain undefeated against Stanford (1-1) at Husky Stadium. And from the student section to social media, the noise won’t subside anytime soon.