Conference of Clunkers: Legacy of Larry Scott, George Kliavkoff

Jordan Ingram Editorials

Some people take action, stay ahead of trends and live on the bleeding edge of change. And others simply like to watch the world burn. And so here we are with the Pac 4, the smoldering ruins of a storied 108-year-old conference, decimated by inflated egos, overconfidence and incompetence under the failed leadership of former and current commissioners Larry Scott and George Kliavkloff.

So, who wore it worse?

Jon Wilner of the Wilner Hotline outlined how Scott contributed to the conference’s downfall:

“Scott’s decision to sign a 12-year contract with ESPN and Fox locked the conference into an agreement that has proved its undoing. With a shorter duration — say, eight or 10 years — the Pac-12 would have renegotiated its media rights before the Big Ten stepped to the table this spring, thereby locking USC and UCLA into an agreement. And just three years ago, Scott turned down an offer from ESPN to take over Pac-12 Networks distribution and forge a long-term partnership on Tier 1 rights. In that scenario, the L.A. schools also stay put.

“The campuses spent years suffering financially (relative to their peers) in hopes that Scott’s master plan would lead to a jackpot in 2024. Now, the jackpot has vanished, and the suffering will only increase. It has all been a colossal waste. The university presidents who approved Scott’s strategy deserve blame, as well. But the cleaving of the conference, and perhaps its eventual destruction, becomes Scott’s legacy. Meanwhile, he pocketed close to $50 million in salary courtesy of the Pac-12 and is sipping wine overlooking a sunset somewhere.”

That’s pretty bad. But Kliavkoff is certainly holding the bag for the state of the conference today. Four schools — Stanford, California, Washington State and Oregon State — with no media deal and certain future. Perhaps Kliavkoff will “save the day” by merging with the Mountain West and securing a lucrative media deal with Pluto TV, The Weather Channel or Home Shopping Network. Or maybe the American Athletic Conference will put the Pac 4 out of its misery and scoop up the remaining teams. Who knows.

WSU athletic director Pat Chun recently weighed in on the conference with Oregon sports journalist John Canzano: “The Pac-12 failed because of failed leadership. College football is fracturing right before our eyes because there’s no leadership. When there’s a void of leadership, these are the outcomes you have to deal with.”

At this point, the Conference of Champions will never receive an offer as good as the one ESPN put forward in the fall of 2022. Yes, ESPN offered the Pac-12 $30 million per school and all the conference’s media rights, including the Pac-12 Network. But for some reason, the offer was rejected and returned with a counteroffer: $50 million per school without USC and UCLA. I’m certain the presidents and chancellors could feel the breeze of the door slamming shut on their faces as flabbergasted ESPN executives walked briskly away, never to look back.

Kliavkoff was hired as a media-savvy replacement to change Scott’s dirty diaper and heal a wounded conference with fresh leadership. Instead, when ESPN offered a fair industry price for media rights, Kliavkoff, formerly of MGM Entertainment, failed to recognize the best deal on the table and relay that to the presidents and chancellors. Making matters worse, while Rome was burning, Kliavkoff dismissed skepticism and brushed off questions about the conference’s nonexistent media deal. Time seemed to be of the essence for everybody but Kliavkoff.

“Our schools are committed to each other and to the Pac-12,” Kliavkoff said at Pac-12 media day. “We’ll get our media rights deal done, we’ll announce the deal. I think the realignment that’s going on in college athletics will come to an end for this cycle. The truth is we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

Everyone was waiting for Chef Kliavkoff’s good ol’ fashioned fish fry, only to learn he was flirting with Apple, eventually dragging in a “deal” to the Pac-12 CEO Group. According to media outlets, the streaming platform is offering $20 million per school with incentives for teams based on Apple obtaining new subscribers.

University of Arizona president Robert Robbins summed it up best: “We were trying to think, well, it’s going to be like selling candy bars for Little League.”

Oof. In my view, Scott’s greed and selfishness were bad, but Kliavkoff laid a glistening ostrich egg when it came to securing a media rights deal and preserving the conference. So, what’s next for the Pac 4? Is there a media deal coming? Should Kliavkoff resign? Does anyone care?

Jordan Ingram
San Diego, California
Top photo by The conference formerly known as the Pac-12

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