In his previous tenure as an executive at MGM Resorts, George Kliavkoff oversaw the T-Mobile Arena and MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, which included staging nearly every major boxing match and UFC card of recent history.
So the man probably knows about fighting.
Or he does now.
Kliavkoff and his new employer, the Pac-12 conference, are currently at odds and their existence is at stake. They’re bloody, bruised, and way down the scorecards.
USC and UCLA, the cornerstones of the 100-plus year old league, are heading for the Big Ten in 2024. The remaining 10 schools face a bleak future of declining television ratings, recruiting territory and prestige, coupled with a potentially even more arduous road to the college football playoffs.
That’s why almost everyone considers going, at least when they can. Maybe the Big Ten. Maybe the Big 12. Maybe anything, anywhere.
Meanwhile, Kliavkoff, the Pac-12 commissioner, is trying to keep it together by gathering spirit and unity in a way that multiple league sources have described as “impressive” and “relentless.”
Yes, he concedes that TV revenue will decline and the postseason is dangerous. But there are no magic wands that can change that now, and panic moves are rarely good.
So he tries to sell the membership by staying put, rebuilding the west, taking his pain at the betrayal of LA’s schools, and becoming one.
It’s a tough sell. It’s a long sale. It may not work.
However, it is worth promoting.
There’s an odd segment of fans and media out there, the latter most likely linked to television networks, who seem to be hailing college football’s consolidation. Just get the top 40 or 50 teams in two or three super conferences and let them play against each other. There will be more big branded games producing more big TV shows. Or something like that.
Perhaps this is appealing to the casual fan who just wants the NFL-lite on Saturday nights. Yes, more good games is a good thing.
But for fans of college football as a whole, for the diehards who devour the sport 12 months of the year, for fans of middle or minor league teams at even the best of conferences, a world without the Pac-12— or a new era of just two top-heavy juggernaut leagues – would be a depressing disaster.
If you love college football, you love everything. They enjoy the circus. You long for chaos. They celebrate the illogical nature of 130-strong schools of all shapes and sizes vying for a single championship. Big government institutions, small religious, military academies, elite private universities, ex-Jucos… you name it.
Give us your weary, your poor, your huddled masses and lace them up in this most American of creations. Not everyone has to be Alabama. Not everyone can be Alabama. Not everyone should be Alabama.
It watches as TCU and SMU battle over an iron pan or Colorado State and Wyoming battle over a boot. It’s an overnight snowstorm that blankets the field in Pullman. It’s blue turf and the bounce house and sunsets over the sun bowl.
It’s Purdue who claims he has the largest drum in the world. It’s Baylor who goes from pathetic to powerful. It’s Northwestern coming to the Big Ten title game. It’s Cincinnati going 13-0. It’s cowbells in Starkville and red balloons in Lincoln (until they ran out of helium) and a dancing tree in Palo Alto.
So FCS sometimes has 75 games in a single day, with endless tailgates, traditions and opportunities.
It’s the fun of it all. Hugh Freeze coaching from a dentist’s chair. The Sooner Schooner overturns. Lane Kiffin trolls on the sidelines during interviews. It’s Jump Around in Madison and Enter Sandman in Blacksburg and Busch Light in Ames.
It’s Kansas via Texas and Appalachian State via Michigan and MACtion on a Tuesday by DeKalb.
It’s Army Navy.
Therefore, the best thing for college football is to end this merry-go-round of realignment. Yes, it’s all business, but sometimes big is big enough. Repurposing exists almost entirely so schools have more millions to buy up bad coaches, pay for private planes, and renovate already opulent dressing rooms.
Best of all for college football, the Pac-12 holds the line and stays together. So that the Big 12 can be themselves. For the ACC to try and stay stable. So that Notre Dame retains its independence. For this to continue as a comprehensive and national pursuit.
The more teams that play so-called “major” college football, the better. If you just want AFC vs. NFC, well, the NFL isn’t hard to find on TV.
Yes, they should have solved the playoff problem decades ago, a bigger field of automatic bids for all worthy conference champions. Instead, the leadership abandoned the sport and decided to protect the bowl industry to the point where it eventually became unable to protect itself.
College football may never get the postseason it deserves — and with it the regular-season race toward it. Perhaps it is doomed by petty, incompetent leadership.
Or maybe George Kilavkoff can save his league and save the day, at least for today.
It doesn’t have to abandon more schools, or destroy more traditions, or end more rivalries, or consider more games meaningless. If that’s your idea of progress, if you care that much about TV numbers or revenue share, then maybe you weren’t a fan at all.
Because, as any serious college football fan knows, the weeks when there aren’t many big names are often the ones when the wheels fall off and anarchy reigns and it’s the best Saturday of the season.
Suddenly you’re watching a MAC team storm a Big Ten field, or some Big 12 QB throwing for 600 yards, or Oregon State and Colorado in double overtime as you battle bleary eyes.
It’s all great. Every last precious second of it.
And that’s worth rooting to save.