In his previous job as an executive at MGM Resorts, George Kliavkoff oversaw T-Mobile Arena and the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, which has hosted nearly every major boxing match and UFC card in recent memory.
So presumably the guy knows about fights.
Or he does now.
Kliavkoff and his new employer, the Pac-12 Conference, are currently in trouble, its very existence at stake. They are bloodied, bruised and way behind the scorecards.
USC and UCLA, the cornerstone programs of the age-old competition, his bail for the Big Ten in 2024† The remaining 10 schools face a bleak future of diminished ratings, grass-fed and prestige coupled with a potentially even more difficult route to the College Football Playoff.
That’s why almost everyone considers leaving, at least if they can. Maybe the Big Ten. Maybe the Big 12. Maybe everything, anywhere.
Meanwhile, Kliavkoff, the Pac-12 Commissioner, tries to keep it together, gathering spirits and unity in a way that multiple competition sources have described as “impressive” and “ruthless”.
Yes, he recognizes that television revenues will fall and that the postseason is dangerous. But there are no wands that can change that now and panic moves are rarely good ones.
So he tries to sell membership by sitting down, by rebuilding the West, by accepting their pain at the betrayal of the LA schools, and by uniting.
It’s a tough sell. It’s a long sale. It may not work.
However, it is worth rooting for.
There’s a strange segment of fans and media, the latter most likely affiliated with television networks, who seem to be cheering for a consolidation of college football. Bring the top 40 or 50 teams to two or three super conferences and have them play against each other. It will be more games from big brands producing more big TV numbers. Or something.
Perhaps this appeals to the casual fan who just wants the NFL lite on Saturday night. Yes, more good games are a good thing.
But for fans of college football as a whole, for the diehards who devour the sport 12 months out of the year, for the fans of mid- or low-level teams in even the best conferences, a world without the Pac-12 — or a new era of just two , top-heavy, juggernaut competitions — would be a depressing disaster.
If you like college football, you’ll love everything. You enjoy the circus. You crave the chaos. You celebrate the illogical nature of 130 schools of all shapes and sizes competing for a single championship. Large state institutions, small religious institutions, military academies, elite private universities, former jucos… whatever.
Give us your weary, your poor, your huddled masses and lace them up in these most American creations. Not everyone has to be Alabama. Not everyone can be Alabama. Not everyone should be Alabama.
It’s watching TCU and SMU battle for an iron skillet or Colorado State and Wyoming battle for a boot. It’s a nighttime snow storm covering the field in Pullman. It’s blue grass and the Bounce House and sunsets over the Sun Bowl.
It’s Purdue trying to claim it has the largest drum in the world. It’s Baylor going from pathetic to powerful. It’s northwest to get 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.
For example, the FCS sometimes has 75 games in one day, with the tailgates and traditions and possibilities stretching endlessly.
It’s the fun of everything. Hugh Freeze coaching from a dental chair. The Faster Schooner tilts. Lane Kiffin trolls during sideline interviews. It’s Jump Around in Madison and Enter Sandman in Blacksburg and Busch Light in Ames.
It’s Kansas over Texas and Appalachian State over Michigan and MACtion on a Tuesday from DeKalb.
It’s army navy.
Therefore, the best thing for college football is that this merry-go-round of reshuffles stops. Yes, it’s all business, but sometimes big is big enough. Reshuffling almost only exists so that schools have more millions to buy out bad coaches and pay for private planes and renovate the already lavish locker rooms.
The best thing for college football is for the Pac-12 to hold the line and stick together. So that the Big 12 can be itself. For the ACC to try to stay stable. For Notre Dame to maintain its independence. To keep this going as a great and national endeavor.
The more teams that play supposedly “big” college football, the better. If you just want AFC v. 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 bidding for all worthy conference champions. Instead, leadership in the sport failed and decided to protect the bowling industry to the point that it could no longer protect itself.
Perhaps college football will never get the postseason it deserved — thus racing the regular season toward it. Perhaps it is doomed to failure 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 leave more schools or destroy more traditions or end more rivalries or deem more games meaningless. If that’s your idea of progress, if you care so much about TV numbers or earnings stocks, 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 name matchups are often the ones when the wheels come off and anarchy reigns and it’s the best Saturday of the season.
Suddenly you see a MAC team storming a Big Ten field or a Big 12 QB throw for 600 meters or Oregon State and Colorado in double overtime as you battle blurry eyes.
It’s all great. Every last, precious second of it.
And that’s worth rooting to be saved.