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Pac-12 Stays Outside the Box...Way Outside

The Pac-12 introduced its new commissioner yesterday.

The conference’s new leader is George Kliavkoff, President of Sports and Entertainment at MGM Resorts, a man who's spent most of his career in digital media and has had no involvement in college sports.

You read that right.

Not a commissioner or deputy commissioner from another conference. Not a respected athletic director. Not an executive from a professional sports league. Not even a marketing type or TV honcho from a network or sponsor involved in college athletics.

No, once again, the Pac-12 Presidents, in their infinite wisdom, went “outside the box.”

Last time, they hired Larry Scott, a professional women’s tennis executive with no college sports experience.

That didn’t work out so well.

Scott was a disaster. During his tenure, the Pac-12 fell off a cliff in terms of stature, football success, and revenues. Scott was pushed out the door with a year remaining on his contract so the conference could find a new leader to renegotiate its next TV deal, figure out how to restore the league to prominence on the field, and bring its revenues to within shouting distance of the other Power Five Conferences.

Despite early indications that they were looking for the anti-Scott, they stayed nontraditional. Like Scott, Kliavkoff is being celebrated by the Pac-12 for his “vision” and for being the “prototype” of the commissioner of the future.

Which is total nonsense.

Let’s look at the other Power Five commissioners. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is a former Athletic Director at Stanford and Iowa, and was generally considered the best AD in the country before going to the Big 12. He’s outstanding.

Greg Stankey, the highly-respected SEC Commissioner, has worked in college sports since 1987 and was previously Commissioner of the Southland Conference. He served in various capacities at the SEC for 13 years before being promoted to the top job in 2015.

ACC’s impressive new commissioner, Jim Phillips, the former athletic director at Northwestern, has also worked in college athletics for over 30 years. He served as an administrator at Notre Dame and Tennessee before becoming Athletic Director at Northern Illinois and then Northwestern.

All three have extensive on-campus cred and understand what it takes to win in college football and basketball.

Kevin Warren of the Big Ten, who struggled in his role last fall, at least knows football. He served as Vice President of three different NFL Teams—the St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, where he was also COO.

Kliavkioff, unlike all of his Power Five colleagues, has zero experience in college sports or football.

Here’s a rundown of his background after getting a journalism degree at Boston University: PR Coordinator, Goodwill Games (1989-90); obtained law degree at Virginia (1990-93); attorney at several law firms (1993-99); GM Real Networks (1999-2003); Executive Vice President, Advanced Media, Major League Baseball (2003-06); Chief Digital Officer, NBC Universal (2006-08); Interim CEO, Hulu (2007-08); President, Hearst Ventures (2009-16); CEO JauntXR, a digital content studio (2016-18); and President of MGM Resorts Entertainment & Sports (2018-21).

So basically, Kliavkoff has worked in digital media and live events. His twitter feed has been dominated by references to Bruno Mars and the Aces of Comedy. Nary a reference to Johnny Juzang or Jarek Broussard. He’s also an authority on sports betting.

In announcing Kliavkoff’s appointment, the Pac-12 felt it necessary to point out that there were over 200 applicants for the job. In the words of the aptly-named Oregon president Michael Schill, “make no mistake about it, the Pac-12 commissioner job was seen as a highly coveted position.”

The fact that he had to say the job was coveted might indicate some defensiveness about the appointment of someone with no experience in the industry.

It makes you wonder if lots of qualified folks turned the job down. We know Bowlsby and several others who would’ve been excellent choices (among them Alabama AD Greg Byrne, Ohio State AD Gene Smith, and WCC Commissioner Gloria Nevarez) declined interest.

Let’s face it, the Pac-12 is in serious trouble. It hasn’t won a national football championship since 2004 and a men’s basketball championship since 1997. Its revenues lag $10 to 20 million per year per school behind the rest of the Power Five. It’s locked into below market TV contracts through 2024, which means those gaps will widen. Its own TV network is a joke.

The conference has only been in the College Football Playoff twice in seven years. West Coast recruits are fleeing to schools in the SEC, ACC and Big Ten, where they have a more realistic chance of getting to the Playoff and their parents can see them on TV more often and in better time slots.

Kliavkoff has his work cut out for him. Hopefully he’ll stick around for awhile and do a great job. Maybe he will turn out to be a visionary, after all.

But he has no experience, expertise or relationships at the college level. So while he may not be going in blind, he’s at least vision impaired.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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