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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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The George Kliavkoff Era in the Pac-12 Comes to an End: How It Fell Apart

  • The beleaguered commissioner presided over the conference’s demise.
  • Kliavkoff will be replaced by Teresa Gould, the first female power conference commissioner.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday marks the final day of George Kliavkoff’s short and tumultuous tenure as commissioner of the Pac-12. He will be remembered as the commissioner who presided over the conference’s demise. 

Kliavkoff took up the position in the spring of 2021. An outsider to college sports but an experienced marketer with MGM Sports and Entertainment, the conference had hoped he would inject modernity into the Pac-12 after commissioner Larry Scott departed. Kliavkoff inherited a conference in turmoil: Its once-great football reputation had sunk, and its once-innovative TV deal had proved a money-loser. The conference’s bright spot: powerful Olympic sports programs—though Kliavkoff largely eschewed them during his early days. 

Costly Mistakes

Kliavkoff suffered an early blow in the summer of 2021, when USC and UCLA made a surprise move to the Big Ten. Though the conference would lose two of its biggest brands, Kliavkoff wasn’t concerned—fast-forward to the summer of ’22, and he was talking a big game about an innovative media deal, calling the Pac-12’s position enviable.

But it took him too long to negotiate. He was leapfrogged by the ever-aggressive Brett Yormark and the Big 12. His constituents grew increasingly impatient as rumors of more realignment flew. Their conference still lacked a media deal by July 2023. The best he could deliver: an exclusive Apple TV+ deal with a base of $20 million per school and escalator fees—not even equivalent to what the conference’s schools were currently making, let alone their competitors in other leagues. The Pac-12 crumbled before Kliavkoff’s eyes, leaving none but Washington State and Oregon State.

Missing in Action

Kliavkoff could’ve taken control as the crusader of the new Pac-2 but instead disappeared into the shadows. He was not part of phone calls between Oregon State and Washington State administrators about next steps. Court documents stated he violated conference bylaws to appease department members. When the schools sued for control of the conference’s assets, he wasn’t even present in the courtroom.

Moving On

Kliavkoff will be succeeded by deputy commissioner Teresa Gould, who officially begins her role Friday as the first female power conference commissioner. She’ll be tasked with rebuilding the conference or steering its current members to permanent new homes, as well as handling conference legal liabilities and presiding over football media deals. 

“We look forward to her leadership as we write the next chapter in the Pac-12’s storied history,” Washington State president Kirk Schulz said.

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