Following what the conference called a “comprehensive global search,” MGM Resorts sports entertainment executive George Kliavkoff was announced as the next Pac-12 commissioner on Thursday morning. His appointment was supported by a unanimous vote of the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors, and his five-year contract begins July 1.
The 54-year-old Kliavkoff’s sports/media credentials include stints as the president of entertainment and sports for MGM Resorts International (2018-21), a member of the WNBA’s Board of Governors (2018-21), a board member of A+E Networks (2013-16), co-president of Hearst Entertainment and Syndication (2009-16), a Hulu Board Member and Interim CEO (2007-08), the chief digital officer of NBC Universal Media (2006-08), and the executive vice president of business for MLB Advanced Media (2003-06).
“I am thrilled to be the Pac-12 Commissioner. This is a challenging time for intercollegiate athletics, but I believe these challenges also create significant opportunities,” Kliavkoff said in a release. “I loved being a student-athlete, and I’m passionate about the doors that college sports and higher education open for young women and men. My job at the Pac-12 will be to help manage the balance between continued academic excellence, student-athlete well-being and an even higher level of athletic achievement.”
Kliavkoff earned a doctorate of law from the University of Virginia in 1993 and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University in 1989.
The Pac-12 announced on Jan. 20 that current commissioner Larry Scott will step down on June 30, a full year before his contract is set to expire. A committee comprised of Oregon Pres. Michael Schill, Washington Pres. Ana Mari Cauce, Washington State Pres. Kirk Schulz, Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano and USC president Carol Folt led a national search for Scott’s eventual successor, with the help of executive search firm TurnkeyZRG.
“At each step of his career, George has navigated complex, quickly changing environments and has been a successful consensus builder,” Schill, chair of the five-member search committee, said in a statement. “George is a visionary leader with an extraordinary background as a pioneering sports, entertainment and digital media executive, and we are delighted and honored that he has agreed to become our next Pac-12 Commissioner.”
“He is the new prototype for a sports commissioner. While George has deep sports experience, his biggest asset is his ability to listen, connect with diverse groups, find common ground, collaborate and navigate an evolving landscape. We believe George’s overall skills and experience will become even more prevalent in college sports leadership.”
According to the Pac-12’s release, Kliavkoff will spend the coming weeks and months meeting “with the athletic directors, coaches from a wide variety of men’s and women’s sports, faculty athletic representatives, and a diverse set of student-athletes to learn more about the conference and begin building relationships at each of the Pac-12 institutions.”
“The athletic directors in the Pac-12 look forward to working with George and supporting his success,” Stanford athletics director Bernard Muir said in a statement. “As a student-athlete himself, George understands the challenges at all levels, including first and foremost from the student-athlete perspective.”
The former chairperson and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, Scott succeeded Tom Hansen as the sixth commissioner of the Pac-12 (then the Pac-10) on July 1, 2009. He also hit the ground running, facilitating the conference’s expansion to 12 teams (with the additions of Utah and Colorado) in 2011 and instituting a conference title game as well. He secured a 12-year, $3 billion media rights deal with Fox and ESPN that was, at the time, the most lucrative in college sports. He also oversaw the Pac-12’s agreement to embrace equal revenue sharing for the first time in its history.
But a series of self-inflicted blunders ultimately defined, and shortened, Scott’s tenure at the helm. He launched the Pac-12 Network in 2012, and decided not to partner with a traditional television network. As a result, the conference’s annual revenue distributions ($32 million per school in FY18) were eventual dwarfed by Power Five contemporaries like the Big Ten ($55 million per school) and the SEC ($45 million per school). That’s despite the fact that, as Pac-12 commissioner and executive chairperson of the Pac-12 Network, Scott made $5.4 million in 2019 — easily the most of any conference commissioner.
Most importantly, the Pac-12 failed to consistently compete for national championships in revenue sports during the 56-year-old Scott’s troubled tenure. The conference last won a football national championship in 2004 (and, even then, USC was later forced to vacate its title). It has not been represented in the College Football Playoff since Washington in 2016-17. In 2018, a Pac-12 member did not reach the Round of 32 in the men’s basketball NCAA tournament for the first time since 1986.
“It has been an honor to serve as Commissioner of the Pac-12 for the past 11 years, and I believe the Conference is well-positioned for continued success and growth,” Scott said in a statement. “I look forward to working with George and ensuring a smooth transition.”
With the Pac-12’s media rights deal expiring in 2024 and negotiations expected to commence late in 2022, Schill told The Times in January it made sense to remove Scott this summer “to get someone in place early enough so they could get their feet wet, they could understand what’s going on and work with us to strategize what our future would be. It just seemed like this was a good time to be thinking about the future.”
Kliavkoff will lead the Pac-12 Conference into that future.
And they’ll be judged not only by media rights deals, but by competitive success — particularly in football and men’s basketball.
“I wouldn’t say that we haven’t been competitive. We put strong teams out there,” Cauce said in January. “Do we want to get even better? Absolutely. There are some questions that are also being raised about, do we have the right model for the CFP? Is (a four-team model) the end-all, be-all of everything? There’s nobody here that does not want to win, but we want to do it the right way.”
Added Schulz: “What I would like the commissioner to come in and do is engage the board and our ADs and our coaches and say, ‘OK, we have not put a team in the football playoff (since 2016-17),’ or, ‘We have not had enough Final Four teams in men’s basketball. Let’s put together a group and say, what do we need to do if that is our goal?’
“We’ve got a lot of talent. When I look at our football coaches, our men’s and women’s basketball coaches, if you get them in a room with presidents and ADs and start saying, ‘What do you need to take that next step?’ we’ll have a pretty comprehensive plan. I just want to see the commissioner facilitate and lead those kind of discussions.”