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Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff visits Pullman, hints at future schedules

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles.  (Associated Press)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – There is an actual possibility that Washington State hosts the likes of Ohio State or Clemson at Gesa Field in the not-so-distant future.

And apparently, the Cougars could be making road trips to college football hotbeds including Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Tallahassee, Florida.

The Pac-12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten announced earlier this week that they’d be forming an “alliance.” The leagues aim to collaborate on various challenges facing college athletics and fashion future scheduling partnerships – neither the initial announcement Tuesday nor the subsequent news conference offered any concrete details concerning the scheduling aspect, however.

But new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, in the midst of a league-wide campus tour, provided the first touch of clarity Friday when he met with local reporters on Rogers Field during his stop at WSU.

“The goal, the north star of the alliance,” Kliavkoff said, is to eventually “get to a place where every single school in each of the conferences is playing eight conference games, one home game and one away game against (a team apiece from) the two other conferences.”

So if all goes to plan, the Cougars would face eight Pac-12 opponents – rather than the standard nine – and meet one Big Ten team and another from the ACC each season, with road and home games presumably alternating by the year.

WSU would have two openings for nonconference games per season to fill out its 12-game schedule.

“Over time, as we’re able to start the scheduling alliance, (the average Wazzu fan) is going to see a lot of great teams from the ACC and the Big Ten coming in to play in Pullman,” Kliavkoff said.

The Pac-12’s media rights agreement will present a big hurdle, the commissioner noted.

“It depends on whether or not we’re able to negotiate our nine-conference-game schedule with ESPN and Fox,” he said. “If we’re able to renegotiate that down to eight, and the Big Ten is able to do that as well, we can start playing these games next year, but there’s a lot of work to be done to get there.”

Based on Twitter activity, Pac-12 – and Cougar – enthusiasts are overwhelmingly supportive of the potential scheduling deal with the two leagues. Pac-12 programs could look forward to the added national exposure and a boost in strength of schedule.

For the fans, there would be no shortage of intriguing matchups.

Some concerns revolve around how traditional nonconference rivalries might be impacted. There are also logistical issues, considering the varying number of member schools in each conference.

The Pac-12 announced Thursday that it has no intentions of adding teams.

“For now, we’re very set,” Kliavkoff said. “We’re happy with the 12 we have. The 12 are happy to be in the league and we didn’t think we needed to expand to thrive.”

The leagues will honor existing game contracts.

As of now, the alliance was formed via verbal agreement. In other words: Nothing’s yet official.

The three commissioners indicated Tuesday that the alliance’s objective is to provide future stability to the conferences as the landscape of college athletics shifts dramatically.

The door was opened this summer for NCAA athletes to begin profiting off their name, image and likeness; rumors have been swirling about impending realignment; and a proposal for the College Football Playoff to expand to 12 teams is on the table.

“This is a year for seismic shifts,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said Tuesday, “and I think it’s really important to make sure that you are aware of all these different things going on, and make sure that from our individual conferences, that we do all we can to protect our conferences and build strong relationships.”

An expanded national playoff has been one of the primary topics during Kliavkoff’s tour of the Pac-12 campuses, he said.

Wazzu is the fourth league school he’s visited in the past two weeks, and he plans to make an appearance at every Pac-12 institution before attending a meeting Sept. 28, during which the powers that be will discuss the CFP expansion proposal.

“A lot of topics, a lot of interesting things going on in college football, but I specifically want to get feedback on the proposal to go to 12 teams in the college football playoff,” he said.

The four-team CFP has been in use since 2014, and in those seven seasons, Pac-12 programs have made the cut just twice – Oregon in 2014 and Washington in 2016. Neither team won the national title.

“Every student-athlete I’ve talked to and the football programs I’ve met with are in favor of expanding the College Football Playoff,” Kliavkoff said. “The question is whether 12 teams is the appropriate way to go, and whether the specific proposal that’s in front of the CFP committee is the best proposal or not.”

WSU athletic director Pat Chun, who spoke to the media after Kliavkoff, said “we do need expansion of the playoffs.”

“There has to be more access, and it’ll benefit the Pac-12 and Washington State.”

Other notes from Friday:

Rolovich’s vaccination status

The commissioner said he’d be sitting down for an hour-long chat with WSU football coach Nick Rolovich later Friday about the state of the conference and college game. Kliavkoff said he wouldn’t address the COVID-19 vaccine or Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent mandate that requires employees in educational roles to be either fully vaccinated or have an exemption by Oct. 18.

“It’s not the conference’s position in that,” he said. “I think that Nick should have whatever kind of personal freedom he wants to have to make his own decision. I noticed that he announced that he’s gonna comply with the mandate. I take him at his word.

“We’re very focused on getting everyone we can vaccinated. And across the conference, eight of the 11 schools that report vaccination rates for football teams are already over 90 percent.”

Rolovich has declined to elaborate whether he’ll receive a vaccine or seek an exemption.

According to a school spokesman last week, 80% of WSU players had been vaccinated.

What the Cougs thought

Rolovich, Chun, wide receiver Travell Harris and edge-rusher Brennan Jackson all said they appreciated that Kliavkoff took the time to see campus, visit with WSU players, personnel and school administrators, and listen to feedback.

“It’s a good sign for the conference to start it off going to see everybody and making sure everyone feels a part of it,” Rolovich said.

Kliavkoff, formerly the MGM Resorts president of entertainment and sports, said he’d been planning to visit every Pac-12 campus and “meet with all the constituents at each school, starting with student-athletes” since he was hired in May to take over for Larry Scott.

“George is very intentional about spending time with everybody,” said Chun, who gifted Kliavkoff a football signed by the entire Wazzu team.

Kliavkoff spoke to the football team’s leadership group about his past and hopes for the future of the conference Thursday night.

Chun said it was “fascinating” to see how engaged the players were.

“It means a lot that we have a voice in the situation,” Jackson said. “I’ve always felt there was a big disconnect from the higher ups in the Pac-12 and just us on the field. Seeing that he actually cares about what we have to say, what our vision was and how we kinda want to be represented, it meant a lot to us.”

Harris added: “Being the head guy and interacting with us on a personal level, it means a lot.”

Kliavkoff on Pullman

“I’ve never been to Pullman before. I’d been to 10 of the 12 campuses (except for WSU and Oregon State). … It’s fantastic. Great, small community. I love it.

“I think because of the academics and the great research institute here, it fits right in with the rest of the Pac-12.”