Pac-12 hires George Kliavkoff as their new Commissioner

After a long and exhaustive search, the Pac-12 Conference will have a new commissioner in place, effective July 1, 2021. The Conference announced on May 13th the hiring of George Kliavkoff as the next conference commissioner, replacing the departing, Larry Scott. Kliavkoff had been serving as the president of entertainment and sports for MGM Resorts International since 2018.

“I am thrilled to be the Pac-12 Commissioner. This is a challenging time for intercollegiate athletics, but I believe these challenges also create significant opportunities,” Kliavkoff said. “I loved being a student-athlete, and I’m passionate about the doors that college sports and higher education open for young women and men. My job at the Pac-12 will be to help manage the balance between continued academic excellence, student-athlete well-being and an even higher level of athletic achievement.”

“I want to go on the record that the Pac-12 is in favor of both the expansion of the College Football Playoff’s four teams and the implementation of consistent guidelines for name, image and likeness. We think that both CFP expansion and NIL legislation are good for college sports fans, good for our student-athletes and can be a significant competitive advantage for the Pac-12.”

It was recently revealed that a college football playoff committee is exploring an expansion of the playoffs. An expansion of the football playoffs would almost certainly involve an automatic bid to the playoffs for all five power conference champions, which would mean that the Pac-12 champion would automatically make the playoffs. At this point in time, a CFP committee selects the four best schools for the playoffs, regardless of conference affiliation.

The Pac-12 touts itself as the conference of champions, and it has won more championships than any other conference. But the sports that count the most, both in prestige and revenue, are football and men’s basketball. The Pac-12 has not won a national championship in football since 2005 and in men’s basketball since 1997. Kliavkoff showed that he was very aware of this as a priority.

“The greatest weakness, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is the number of years it’s been since we won a football or men’s basketball championship,” Kliavkoff said. “We’re gonna do everything we can at the conference level to fix that. We know where the bread is buttered. We’re focused on the revenue sports and winning in men’s basketball and football.”

The term NIL stands for Name, Image and Likeness. The idea behind NIL legislation is to provide college athletes opportunities to make money by selling their name, image, and likeness (NIL) rights while playing in college. California passed NIL legislation in 2019, which will become effective on January 1, 2023, and other states have followed with somewhat similar legislation. The NCAA is trying to establish some national rules for NIL before states like California set out on their own.

The two big challenges coming up for Kliavkoff are the Pac-12 Network and the new TV contract. Regarding the TV contract, Kliavkoff indicated that he would “outsource” the TV negotiations, which every other power conference has done. The Pac-12 Network is down to 14.8 million subscribers, per a report from Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. Even worse, the regional networks were down to 8.5 million subscribers. That issue needs to be addressed within the first year by the new commissioner.

But the best thing Kliavkoff has going for himself is that he is not Larry Scott. “One of the best hires I ever made,” said Beth Comstock, NIKE board member, the first female vice chair of General Electric and the former president of Integrated Media at NBCUniversal. “George is an inclusive team builder, consensus builder, thought leader and world-class collaborator. He’s brilliant at solving complex puzzles, again and again finding solutions that work for everybody.”

That is not a description of Scott in his tenure as Pac-12 Commissioner, who at times could be described as abrasive. The Pac-12 needed new leadership and new ideas and Kiavkoff may be the guy to lead the Pac-12 conference into the future. Scott had been the Pac-12 Commissioner for the past twelve years and it was time to move in another direction.


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