George Kliavkoff was a rower at Boston University in the late 1980s. But unless he qualifies as a super-duper senior, Kliavkoff won’t be taking the field at Ohio Stadium on Sept. 11.
The new commissioner’s ability to immediately impact the trajectory of Pac-12 football specifically, and the conference more broadly, is extremely limited.
But there are steps Kliavkoff can take this summer – before and after his term begins on July 1 – to address key issues and generate momentum for his first year on the job.
Here’s our list.
1. Hire a diversity officer: The conference announced last summer, in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, that it would create a “head of diversity and inclusion position.” Yet here we are, some 10 months later, and the job remains unfilled.
Kliavkoff should make it his first staff appointment, with the goal of having someone in place by Sept. 1.
The Hotline calls ’em like we see ’em, and here’s what we see:
A senior-level position, reporting directly to Kliavkoff, is more important than ever after a group of five white presidents on the search committee led the full group of 12 white presidents through a process that ended with a 54-year-old white man being placed in charge of the conference.
(Please note: Washington president Ana Mari Cauce was born in Cuba. The other members of the committee were Oregon’s Michael Schill, Washington State’s Kirk Schulz, USC’s Carol Folt and Colorado’s Phil DiStefano.)
The process was hardly an ideal look for the Pac-12, which is the only power conference without a Black men’s basketball coach.
2. Deflect the attention, don’t attract it: Once again, full candor: Outgoing commissioner Larry Scott loves being the center of attention and has made the Pac-12 more about him than about the schools, the coaches or the athletes.
For 12 years, the conference has contorted itself around Scott, to serve his whims, to spread his message, to create his victory laps – the Cult of Larry, you could say – rather than positioning itself in orbit around the schools and athletes.
So high is his public profile that Scott receives blame for things that aren’t his fault. But that’s the bed he made and, until recently, the role he was allowed to play by the oblivious (or uninterested) presidents.
Kliavkoff must keep a lower profile and make everything about the schools. He must be a humble servant.
3. Hire a media consultant yesterday: Serious discussions about the Pac-12’s next media rights contracts won’t begin for 18-21 months, unless the conference attempts to renegotiate its arrangements early (in which case it could only deal with Fox and ESPN because of exclusivity clauses).
But the media landscape is changing swiftly, especially with the NFL having swallowed $100 billion of available cash and the Big Ten up next at the negotiating table (among the major American football properties).
The Pac-12 needs to begin plotting its strategy immediately to maximize any and all opportunities for leverage.
Kliavkoff has experience in media rights wheeling and dealing, but not recently. Expertise is required, and the magnitude of the situation is such that it requires full-time attention.
4. Don’t just talk football; think football: Kliavkoff smartly embraced the primacy of football on Thursday, but talk is talk – all it really gets you is five years without a playoff appearance.
There’s only so much the conference office can do to improve the football product, but it should make every effort to reach that support ceiling.
The first step: Create a football strategy committee that works with the campuses and any necessary external partners to position the conference for future success.
This committee should be involved in officiating, scheduling, postseason partnerships, recruiting strategies – every facet of the football operation.
Consider former players, coaches and athletic directors, data analysts and recruiting experts.
The Pac-12 formed a basketball strategy committee several years ago, and it made an impact.
That the struggling conference hasn’t bothered to put the best minds at work for football success is, frankly, unconscionable.
5. Treat every school “equally”: For this topic, we’ll relay a lesson told by those who worked in the Big Ten during the tenure of legendary commissioner Jim Delany.
When it came time for a decision that impacted the conference collectively, Delany would speak personally with all the athletic directors and relevant campus officials, one-by-one, and give them ample opportunity to voice an opinion. Then he’d get Ohio State and Michigan on the phone and do whatever they wanted.
All voices are equal; all votes are not.
6. Restructure football officiating: Since 2015, David Coleman has been the head of officiating, responsible for recruiting, training, teaching, managing and evaluating; he reports to Merton Hanks, the chief of football operations, who was hired last fall.
In our opinion, Coleman’s qualifications to lead the on-field officiating operation are extremely suspect.
Sure, keep him on staff and limit his role to recruiting new officials, but someone who has actually officiated major college football games should be in charge of the football officiating program. (Crazy concept, right?)
The repeated problems with officiating over the years – we’re talking big problems, giant problems and colossal problems – are largely the result of a chain-of-command structure in San Francisco that, over the years, has placed little value on football expertise.
7. Vegas, baby: The Hotline has long believed the Pac-12 should move its center of gravity to Las Vegas – a prospect that seems far more likely given Kliavkoff’s ties to MGM.
The process should start on Labor Day … err, sorry: The process should start with Labor Day.
Schedule marquee games against the SEC in Allegiant Stadium on the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend, before the NFL season begins.
Over the years, Pac-12 teams have made numerous Week 1 trips to Atlanta and Arlington for prime-time duels against SEC powers. Some of those matchups should be played in the Pac-12 footprint.
If the soon-to-be former president of sports and entertainment at MGM can’t make this happen for the league, nobody can.
8. Pledge to cut expenses: Kliavkoff’s tenure begins on July 1, the first day of the 2022 fiscal year. No matter. Before he takes office, Kliavkoff should make a public pledge that he will trim conference expenses in FY22 by a modest amount – and include a vow to make additional cuts in FY23.
The gesture would send an important message across the Pac-12 that priorities have changed at HQ and that the conference office is wholly committed to sending every last dime back to the schools.
To be clear, the Pac-12 Networks are running lean. But the conference side of the operation has fat to cut. (Southwest for everyone!)
In addition, Kliavkoff should seriously consider revealing his compensation package.
Scott’s $5-plus million salary was a constant and massive source of embarrassment for the conference.
We believe Kliavkoff’s five-year deal is worth $2 million-to-$2.5 million annually, which is comparable to commissioners in the Big 12 (Bob Bowlsby) and SEC (Greg Sankey).
His compensation will become public eventually, when the Pac-12 tax filings are released in a few years.
Why not be proactive?