USC, UCLA change Pac-12 football conversation

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – The elephant in the room at the Pac-12 Conference media day was evident. Well, two elephants were in the room at The Novo in downtown Los Angeles. The first big one was the acknowledgment of USC and UCLA announcing that they were leaving the conference for the Big Ten Conference in 2024, which was put in front of the public several weeks ago.

“As a conference, we are of course very disappointed by the decisions by USC and UCLA to leave the Pac-12 and a century of tradition and rivalries after 2024,” Pac-12 Conference Commissioner George Kliavkoff said. 

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham at the podium during the Pac-12 Conference Media Day on July 29, 2022. Photo by Haywood Galbreath courtesy of MPJINews

“That said, USC and UCLA have been proud members of the Pac-12 for almost a century. Despite their decision, we cherish our relationship with their student-athletes, coaches, staff, faculty, alumni and fans. For that reason, I personally have instructed everyone at our conference to make sure that USC and UCLA student-athletes are given every opportunity to compete and succeed for as long as they remain in the Pac-12.”

There are looming questions about what Kliavkoff and the conference are prepared to do now that the Trojans and Bruins are preparing to bail out of the many traditions of the Pac-12 for greener pastures in the Big Ten Conference. When they made the shocking announcement at the time, both USC and UCLA cited better on and off-field opportunities for their student-athletes, particularly around the whole NIL (name, image and likeness) scenario.

“Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports,” athletic director Mike Bohn said. “We are excited that our values align with the league’s member institutions. We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference; the athletic caliber of Big Ten institutions; the increased visibility, exposure, and resources the conference will bring our student-athletes and programs; and the ability to expand engagement with our passionate alumni nationwide.”

In a joint statement, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Martin Jarmond, the Alice and Nahum Lanier Family Directors of Athletics, had this to say about the university’s move to the Big Ten Conference. 

“Entry into the Big Ten will also help ensure that UCLA preserves and maintains all 25 current teams and more than 700 student-athletes in our program. Additionally, it means enhanced resources for all of our teams, from academic support to mental health and wellness. And although this move increases travel distances for teams, the resources offered by Big Ten membership may allow for more efficient transportation options. We would also explore scheduling accommodations with the Big Ten that best support our student-athletes’ academic pursuits.”

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards is at the podium speaking to reporters during the Pac-12 Conference Media Day on July 29, 2022. Photo by Haywood Galbreath courtesy of MPJINews

The task in front of Kliavkoff and the Pac-12 to replace USC and UCLA is enormous. Rumorville has several local teams involved in the mix, but there are no schools being considered with the local clout and national reputation as the Trojans and Bruins. And with word circulating that Oregon and Stanford might be the next two teams bolting out of the Pac-12, the conference would pretty much be on its way out.

Kliavkoff, however, is not thinking that way. Putting up a good front with a defiant tone, Kliavkoff maintained that the Pac-12 Conference is still a viable conference-with or without USC or UCLA.  

“Moving ahead we are bullish about the Pac-12’s future and our opportunities for long-term growth, stability and success,” remarked Kliavkoff. “Our conference boasts 10 of the most iconic and innovative brands in all of sports, all-around excellence in academics and athletics, and a half dozen of the most valuable markets in this country.”

With players and coaches attending the daylong press conference, the issue of USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12 was bandied about for a reaction to the abrupt news. Arizona State head coach isn’t sure how the move by the Trojans and the Bruins will impact his football program. Edwards, however, understands that this is a new day in college football and collegiate athletics, and you have to be able to adapt to it.  

“I don’t know if it’s going to impact,” Edwards said. “I think what’s impacted is more than just the realignment of teams going to different conferences, it’s how do you go about recruiting now and what mechanism do you have in your conference to generate TV revenue?”

“It’s TV,” Edwards added. “It’s driven by TV. Everyone in this audience knows that. How can you generate dollars for your programs? That’s what everyone is faced with right now. That is how it works. That’s a new model, by the way. Everyone’s trying to figure out what does that look like.”

In regards to the Trojans and Bruins kissing the Pac-12 goodbye, Kyle Whittingham, whose Utah Utes have been tagged as the team to beat in the conference this season, expects more moves. While was caught off guard with the Bruins and the Trojans saying they were kissing the Pac-12 Conference goodbye, Whittingham said the news was not altogether that shocking.  

“Surprised but not surprised,” Whittingham said. “I mean, nothing can really surprise you I don’t believe in college football right now. There’s so much movement and things that have happened through the years. There’s going to be a great deal more change, in my opinion.

Whittingham continued, “I think, as I mentioned earlier, the concept of super conferences is starting to materialize, become a reality. Wasn’t completely taken back by the move. The timing, I don’t know if there was ever a good time, but the timing was a little bit of a surprise.  Anyway, like I said, that’s where things are moving. We’ll just have to wait and see when all the dust settles where we’re at. It’s not settled yet. There’s a lot of dust to come.”

Featured Image Caption: From left to right are Pac-12 Conference Commissioner George Kliavkoff, Pac-12 Conference Senior Associate Commissioner of Football Operations Merton Hanks, and Bernard Muir, director of athletics at Stanford. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

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