Pac-12 discovers the new landscape of college football the hard way

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Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff spent much of his media day opening remarks on Friday lamenting the profiteering and professionalism of college athletics — yes, yes, bless his heart.

He said he was “disappointed” that USC and UCLA are leaving for the Big Ten “after a century of tradition and rivalry.” He said college sports have “collectively lost sight of the student-athlete.”

He argued for the industry to “recalibrate” because “our long-term measure…can’t be how much money we can consolidate…we should be measuring how many lives we can change.”

Then he mentioned that the Pac-12 was actively looking to grow and tried to address a previous Big 12 comment about being “open for business.”

“We appreciate that,” Kliavkoff said. “We haven’t decided whether we’re going to shop there or not.”

In other words, which schools will the Pac-12 attack from the Big 12. (If any, we’ll of course come to that later).

Kliavkoff noted it was an aggressive line, but said he had no choice.

“I spent four weeks trying to defend myself against the grenades that were thrown from every corner of the Big 12 trying to destabilize our remaining conference,” Kliavkoff said. “When you look at the relative media value between conferences, I understand why they’re scared.”

It’s modern college sports in a nutshell, a back and forth between sepia ideals and modern cutthroat capitalism. The people who run college sports — primarily football — can’t figure out what they want to be…other than well-paid, of course.

Kliavkoff lamented predatory conferences while threatening to be a predatory conference. And if he thinks it’s dishonorable or disloyal to USC and UCLA to jump from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten, then doesn’t all of that apply to the Pac-12 as well so that someone a jump from the Big 12 or Mountain West?

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff delivers his opening remarks at the start of the Pac-12 media day at Novo at LA LIVE on Friday. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Words are words. Media rights are media rights.

“Sometimes you just have to fight back,” Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens told reporters.

In effect. And the Pac-12 has to throw a lot of punches if it’s going to survive. This is why Kliavkoff should abandon the hearts and flowers approach to describing college athletics.

It’s a battle for money and only money.

“We’re late,” Kliavkoff said. “We need to close the income gap.”

So, can the Pac-12 really poach the Big 12?

A year ago, the answer was yes. It was the Big 12 who were reeling and vulnerable after Oklahoma and Texas announced they were leaving for SEC monetary surroundings. Any of the remaining eight schools would have jumped on a Pac-12 lifeline.

The Pac-12 didn’t call though. The Big 12 schools formed a strange bond born of being undesirable, added four new schools (BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston), and banded together. They aren’t what they used to be, but they seem unified.

That’s why new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yourmark has made it clear that his league is “open for business”…a clear nod to any Pac-12 school that sought stability in the East.

So now the question may be who wins this tussle and will the Pac-12 regret not “unseating” the Big 12 when they had the chance.

The Big 12 offers calm waters more than anything else. Everyone in the Pac-12 knows that Oregon and Washington are desperately trying to get into the Big Ten and would jump at an invite. Meanwhile, Stanford believes that if Notre Dame ever makes it to the Big Ten as the 17th team, the Cardinal will be invited to come as well.

So the future of the Pac-12 rests on the hope that desirable schools aren’t wanted, because once they are, they’re gone, Bruins and Trojans-style, by the time their granting of rights ends.

That’s why the Big 12 tries to attract the remaining schools that are tired of being abandoned. Would Arizona and Arizona State see this league as a better fit? How about Utah or Colorado, which was a former member of the Big 8?

It’s like a Jenga tower, of course. If you get one, the whole place might crumble and you’ll choose what you want from the rubble.

The Pac-12, meanwhile, could try to squeeze the best out of the Big 12 by waving what Kliavkoff suggests is a richer TV deal and access to the populous West Coast (even minus Los Angeles).

But would anyone go when loyalty seems shaky?

Or will the Pac-12 be forced to enter certain Mountain West schools such as San Diego State, UNLV, or Boise State? Or – more likely – stick to 10 and hope for the best?

Whatever happens, the stewards say the quiet parts out loud. Realignment is often done silently. Not this time.

There is no collegiality, no community, no courtesy.

It’s a fight, so ignore all that high and mighty rhetoric at first, because none of that applies here.

This is college athletics, after all.

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