Wilner Hotline – Pac-12 Commissioner Opens Up

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In his first account of the Pac-12’s heavily-scrutinized vote against College Football Playoff expansion, commissioner George Kliavkoff said he wanted to support the 12-team proposal but didn’t because of how the vote was framed.

Kliavkoff explained his decision during an appearance on The Dave Pasch Podcast. His conversation with the ESPN broadcaster was recorded late last week and published Monday.

The Pac-12’s vote has been the subject of much attention and confusion following two seemingly contradictory developments:

On Jan. 10, the day of a crucial vote on expansion, the conference issued a statement saying it supported all of the proposed formats — and was, in fact, the only conference to take such a flexible stance.

One month later, it was revealed that Kliavkoff had actually voted against expansion hours before the Pac-12 issued its statement supporting both the eight- and 12-team formats.

Opposition to expansion by the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten during that fateful Jan. 10 vote likely means the CFP will remain a four-team event through the 2025 season.

“Lots of other stuff is going on in college athletics that we could hopefully settle or resolve … before we have to decide this,” Kliavkoff told Pasch as part of a wide-ranging, 30-minute discussion. (Full interview here.)

“(Expansion) is not the highest priority, and putting it on the back burner for a little while is helpful.”

(The NCAA is facing a series of changes, including name, image and likeness and a separate Supreme Court ruling on academic benefits for athletes, that have placed unprecedented pressure on its longstanding economic model.)

Kliavkoff cited two reasons for his vote against playoff expansion on Jan. 10:

— The first involved the Rose Bowl.

In the years when it would host a semifinal game on the second week of January, the Rose Bowl also wants to stage a traditional Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup at 2 p.m. on New Year’s Day in a protected broadcast window (i.e., without counter-programming from a CFP quarterfinal game).

“I think the majority of people in the CFP room support that,” he said. “There are a few folks that would like to see the Rose Bowl harmed.”

— The more significant reason for his opposition to expansion involved revenue distribution.

The current CFP contract with ESPN runs through the 2025 season, which is commonly referred to as “Year 12” by playoff officials. Therefore, Year 13 would be the 2026 season and the start of a new contract term.

In order for the CFP to expand under the current contract, all 10 conferences and Notre Dame must approve.

Kliavkoff told Pasch:

“If the question at hand would have been, ‘Do you want to expand for Years 11 and 12 for the 12-team proposed model,’ our vote would have been yes.

“And despite the fact that our vote would have been yes, (expansion) would not have passed because the (ACC and Big Ten) are on the record saying they would not have voted for it, for different reasons …

“I would have voted yes, but that wasn’t the vote. The vote was, ‘Will you agree to expand to the 12-team playoff for Years 11, 12 and beyond — Year 13 and beyond. And what we have in Year 13 and beyond is no current contractual commitment to each other. There’s no grant-of-rights. There’s no contract. What you need to expand beyond that is just enough people to say they want to agree on playing in a certain format, and then move forward.

“I am in favor, the Pac-12 is in favor, of all sorts of different expansion formats. We’ve been in favor of 12 teams, eight teams … The only thing I said is, ‘There are some issues that we need to resolve before I can vote yes to that.’ The one that gets widely reported is the Rose Bowl. That’s a tiny little issue. Set that aside. The other thing I said is, ‘I want to know whether we’re sticking with the current revenue split or whether people are proposing changing the revenue split,’ understanding that the pie will be bigger — there will be more money if you’re playing more games.

“And the answer I got is, ‘We’re not going to commit to the current revenue split and we’re not going to discuss that. So are you voting yes or no?’ And in my life, I’ve never voted or signed a contract where I don’t know the financial terms of that contract. So I was forced to vote no. I would have much rather agreed on expansion.”

Pasch asked why other conferences voted in favor of expansion without knowing the financial arrangement beyond 2025.

“I think several of them probably think they deserve more of the financials and may or may not want to demand that,” Kliavkoff said. “I think others are desperate for access to the CFP and would have voted for anything that gave them access. I can’t speak for other commissioners. I don’t know the answer.”

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