SAN FRANCISCO —
Like a point guard trying to force a turnover to complete an improbable rally, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff remained on the attack Wednesday in his bid to keep UCLA from abandoning his conference for the Big Ten.
Kliavkoff said at Pac-12 basketball media day that among the more than 100 UCLA coaches and athletes he had corresponded with about the departure, there was unanimous opposition.
“I have yet to talk to anyone in the UCLA and USC community who’s in favor of the move,” Kliavkoff said at conference headquarters, referencing the Trojans’ exit alongside their crosstown rivals scheduled for August 2024. “I will say that I probably hear from folks who are not in favor, not surprisingly.”
Reiterating what he wrote last month in a letter to the UC Board of Regents asking the governing body to block UCLA’s move, Kliavkoff said the university would lose money because of its departure.
“We believe between the travel and the coaches’ salaries and some of the other expenses you incur when you join the Big Ten,” Kliavkoff said, “the small delta in the media rights deal [between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten] will be more than offset. We stand by those numbers.”
One person familiar with UCLA’s athletic department finances disputed Kliavkoff’s numbers, estimating the travel cost increases incurred by additional chartered flights and hotel nights associated with arriving early at faraway sites would be more than offset financially by the revenue increase.
UCLA is projected to make between $65 million and $75 million in media rights revenue alone during its first year in the Big Ten. Additional money will come from College Football Playoff and NCAA tournament distributions, which have recently been larger for Big Ten schools than their Pac-12 counterparts based on having more teams involved in those lucrative games.
Some expense mitigation would also come from neutral-site competitions for Olympic sports teams. The Big Ten has assured UCLA that new scheduling models would be explored to help lower travel distances and costs. This could include utilizing neutral site competition in a centrally located city such as Chicago or Minneapolis for Olympic sport teams over multiple days.
Asked how he would expect to move forward in a cooperative manner with UCLA if his letter contributed to the Bruins’ wishes being thwarted, Kliavkoff said, “We’re not thwarting anyone’s wishes. It’s not our choice. It’s up to the regents, and we’re just providing information as requested.”
Clarity about whether the regents will try to block the move is expected at their meeting next month in San Francisco.
Kliavkoff wrote in his letter to the regents that there was “urgency” in the situation because the Pac-12 is finalizing a new media rights contract. Some projections have estimated that the deal could fetch between $35 million to $40 million annually per school, though that number would certainly rise with UCLA and the coveted Los Angeles market part of any deal.
Kliavkoff said the conference’s new deal would “close the gap between us and the Big Ten and the SEC [Southeastern Conference],” which he called a first step in strengthening the Pac-12 brand.
“Eventually, we’ll catch those guys,” Kliavkoff said. “It will take a couple of steps, but we’re going to take a step towards closing that gap. Then we’re going to be looking at expansion. We’re going to be looking at schools that make sense for us.”
There was also a basketball season to discuss, which seemed like a welcome distraction amid the lingering uncertainty over UCLA.
Winning October, never the goal for UCLA, continued to be an annual ritual under coach Mick Cronin. For the third time in as many years, the Bruins were picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll.
In each of the last two seasons, they fell short of those projections. Will this be the season that UCLA breaks through for its first regular-season conference title since 2012-13?
There’s a lot to like about these Bruins, starting with point guard Tyger Campbell and small forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. Both seniors are preseason first-team All-Pac-12 selections and could end the season as All-Americans. Cronin said Campbell, who piled up 32 points last week during a scrimmage victory over San Diego State, would be counted on for more scoring this season.
He’ll be complemented by a gifted freshman class led by guards Amari Bailey and Dylan Andrews as well as center Adem Bona and swingman Abramo Canka. Like Campbell, Bailey and Andrews can play either guard position, adding versatility and making lineups interchangeable.
Rounding out the rotation will be junior guard Jaylen Clark and fifth-year seniors David Singleton and Kenneth Nwuba in addition to two redshirt freshmen who are returning from serious knee injuries in big man Mac Etienne and guard Will McClendon. Cronin said Etienne had been playing one-on-one and was closer to being fully cleared than McClendon.
UCLA received 26 of 33 first-place votes. Defending conference champion Arizona (three first-place votes) was picked to finish second, followed by Oregon (three), USC, Stanford (one), Colorado, Arizona State, Washington State, Washington, Utah, California and Oregon State. Media have correctly picked the Pac-12 champion 17 times in 33 tries. The Los Angeles Times does not participate in media voting per its longstanding policy.
UCLA has finished second, fourth and second in the Pac-12 in its three seasons under Cronin. The Bruins reached the conference tournament championship game last season before losing to Arizona as part of a sustained drought for the Los Angeles schools.
“Since I’ve been in the league, USC hasn’t won the conference title or the tournament,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “UCLA maybe won one tournament, one league title. Arizona’s been up there. We’ve won four conference titles. So our basketball league is going to survive” the departures of the Bruins and Trojans.
Winning a Pac-12 title or two before its departure for the Big Ten would be UCLA’s preferred way of bidding the conference farewell.