New Pac-12 commissioner enters CFP talks as agent for change

Incoming Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff introduced himself to the world of college sports by taking one particularly notable position.

The College Football Playoff needs to be expand beyond its current four-team format, he said.

“I was not expecting to make news,” Kliavkoff told AP in a phone interview after his introductory new conference Thursday.

“But if you’ve been paying attention the last couple of weeks to the moves that have been made both in announcements related to the contemplation of the expansion of college football playoffs and also some of the NIL legislation and timing … I thought on both of those it was important to get our positions at least publicly announced even if they are not solidified in detail,” he said.

A couple weeks ago, CFP executive director Bill Hancock revealed in a Friday news release that was both surprisingly forthcoming and typically coy that the playoff management committee was ready to give serious consideration to changing the format.

There was no commitment to anything beyond a thorough conversation, but the mere mention that a subcommittee of conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic had been studying more than 63 possible playoff permutations, ranging from six teams to 16, caused a stir.

On June 17 at the Big Ten offices in Chicago, the subcommittee is scheduled to present a report on expansion to the full management committee.

When Kliavkoff officially succeeds Larry Scott and takes over as Pac-12 commissioner on July 1 he also gets a seat on the CFP management committee with the rest of the FBS conference leaders.

His last day in his current job as president of sports and entertainment for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas is June 4.

Kliavkoff said he was hoping to take a little down time between the end of his tenure at MGM and the beginning of his time with the Pac-12.

“But I will be in constant communication with Larry (Scott) about how we represent the Pac-12 in the transition period to make sure that our thoughts on the expansion are well understood,” Kliavkoff said, adding with a bit of a laugh: “Chicago is lovely in June.”

The Pac-12 has sent a team to the playoff just twice since it started in 2014, and the conference has been shutout since 2016.

With every season the Pac-12 is left out of the CFP, elite high school players see the conference as less-than compared with the other Power Five leagues.

No better example of the Pac-12’s tarnished reputation will be found this season than at Alabama and Clemson, where the super-power football programs are each expected to start a former five-star high school quarterback from southern California, the heart of Pac-12 territory.

Scott became a public advocate for playoff expansion last year, pushing for change to the format in a pandemic season that had no nonconference play between Power Five teams.

Scott continues to support expansion as he exits the Pac-12 after 11 years, but he has been criticized by some Pac-12 supporters for not taking a strong public before now.

It’s doubtful Scott could have expedited change by becoming a vocal proponent of expansion sooner.

Even now, none of the other Power Five commissioners from the Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern Conference or Atlantic Coast Conference, publicly support going beyond four. The farthest the rest of them are prepared to go is a commitment to talking about expansion.

“But here’s what I would just say about expansion — and I’m not against it — I want to have the conversation,” said ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, who will become the second-newest member of the playoff management committee when Kliavkoff comes on board.

“And I want to do it really thoughtfully. I don’t want to just rush into ‘Yes, we have to expand.’ I want to know it more,” Phillips added in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

Phillips took over for the retiring John Swofford at the ACC earlier this year. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren is also relatively new to CFP management, having stepped into the job 17 months ago when Jim Delany retired.

Greg Sankey from Southeastern Conference and Bob Bowlsby from the Big 12 are now the veterans among Power Five commissioners. both in place since the playoff was implemented.

Kilavkoff told AP he planned to reach out to his fellow P5 commissioners to introduce himself in the next day or two, though he was happy to have already received a congratulatory message from Warren on his voicemail.

Kliavkoff enters the CFP discussion with the clear goal of being an agent for change, armed with an already developed argument for expansion.

“I look forward to working with those colleagues, but the way it is structured today, where 3% of the athletes get to participate and 71% of the bids go to four schools is a broken model,” he said. “And it’s not good for college football fans unless you happen to be a fan of one of those four schools. And I would say even then it’s not great. It’s certainly not good for student-athletes. It’s really not good for the Pac-12.”


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