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Report exposes Pac-12’s many missteps

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I really didn’t want to write another dour piece on the demise of the Pac-12, but then I read John Canzano’s piece yesterday with multiple sources sharing details on how the conference nuked its own fate and here we are.

(By the way, make sure you don’t miss Emma’s script on how the conference’s final board meeting might have gone.)

Take the time to read Canzano’s article, and come back here once you’ve picked your jaw off the floor. It really illustrates how much of a failure George Kliavkoff has been for the conference, as well a the ineptitude of the presidents and chancellors who seem to think they’re more important than they actually are.

Let’s look at some highlights:

The first bad move was hiring Doug Perlman to manage the media deal negotiations

Perlman runs Sports Media Advisors and is an old law school classmate of Kliavkoff. As Canzano reports:

The hire was approved by the Pac-12’s CEO Group, but raised eyebrows within the industry.

Perlman had a solid reputation in the media business, but arrived with little experience negotiating media-rights deal in the college space.

“Doug was way too nice and mild in my view,” said one source with knowledge of the negotiation. “You need cold-blooded killers in this business.”

Hindsight being 20/20, hiring Perlman, a man whose resume is light in media rights negotiations, should have been a red flag for a league that couldn’t get this wrong. But, the presidents and chancellors still approved the hire.

The Pac-12 way overvalued its 10 remaining teams

USC and UCLA announced they were leaving the Pac-12 in the summer of 2022, leaving the league with 10 teams and without its biggest media market and a team—USC—clearly on the upswing that has proven it can be an incredibly marketable program.

Despite all this, last fall the presidents and chancellors, after being offered a deal from ESPN that would pay $30 million per school, countered with a deal that would see each school paid $50 million.

ESPN told the league to take a hike, and in late October, signed a deal with the Big 12.

As we now know, the best the league could do nearly a year later was just $25 million per school on a non-linear deal with Apple. Not the best negotiation, if you ask me.

Arizona and Arizona State were determined to save what was left of the conference....until Washington and Oregon left

It was no secret the Big 12 wanted the Arizona schools. But the Wildcats and Sun Devils were loyal to the Pac-12, despite the poor media deal on the table, and that Arizona Board of Regents meeting had everybody anxious. But the schools came out of the meeting united and planned on signing the deal with Apple.

But then the Big Ten (and Fox, if we’re being honest) wooed the Ducks and Huskies and that was that for the Pac-12, leaving the Arizona schools and Utah no choice but to bolt. Already operating with zero leverage, the Pac-12 was screwed.

Kliavkoff’s credibility has cratered

Canzano wrote that Kliavkoff “overpromised and under-delivered.” Kliavkoff has done a lot of things wrong since taking over as commissioner, but one thing he did right was convince the presidents and chancellors that patience would pay off, that good things were coming, and present a narrative that the schools were united—messaging some board members, including WSU’s Kirk Schulz, echoed publicly.

Would Larry Scott have saved the conference?

Canzano is clear that Scott deserves plenty of blame for the state of the Pac-12 he handed to Kliavkoff. But this was interesting:

I spoke to one long-time conference source this week who confessed he’d been thinking about the ex-commissioner this week. Scott had the unhappiness of the LA schools on his radar in 2009. He knew USC was a flight risk.

Scott’s successor was blindsided by it.

The source said: “No matter what you think of Larry I think he would have played much better chess than we did the past couple years.”

Make sure you read Canzano’s entire piece. It’s a great look at all the missteps the Pac-12 has taken over the past year-plus. It’s going to be a very awkward sports season from now until next June, and can you imagine Kliavkoff’s trophy presentation at the Pac-12 Championship Game in December? Yikes.

Meanwhile, Canzano reported yesterday that the four remaining Pac-12 schools (Pac-4?) have hired Oliver Luck, father of Andrew, as an advisor, to presumably help pick up the pieces and steer the schools in the right direction.

Apparently Luck was a candidate for Pac-12 commissioner when Kliavkoff was hired. We’ll see if the four remaining schools can find some—ahem—luck as they chart a path forward.