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Bill Oram: Big Ten expansion puts Pac-12 and counterpunching commissioner George Kliavkoff on the clock

Oregon football is a mere 36 days from a trip into the teeth of the SEC to take on the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs. But the Ducks aren’t the only ones on the clock.

The Pac-12 is, too.

On Friday, commissioner George Kliavkoff will make his first public remarks since USC and UCLA bolted from the Pac-12 to the ever-expanding Big Ten. The biggest task facing the second-year commissioner is whether he can keep it from happening again.

Kliavkoff’s appearance may be the main event of the conference’s annual media day in Los Angeles, but he will be counterpunching.

Earlier this week, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, fresh off stealing Kliavkoff’s two biggest prizes, indicated the Big Ten may not be done adding teams.

“It will be done for the right reasons,” Warren said, “at the right time.”

Hello, Oregon? Hello, Washington?

The revamped Big Ten may sit tight at 16 teams for a while, but probably not forever. And if Warren eventually extends invites to the most attractive remaining schools in the Pac-12, what would be the argument to keep them from bolting, too? Like many, I’m a traditionalist. I think realignment will eventually kill the soul of college football — if it hasn’t already — to say nothing of non-revenue sports and those athletes, who are getting dragged along like tin cans behind a sedan marked, “JUST MARRIED.”

But I also accept that college sports are more of a business today than they ever have been, and the transfer portal, combined with new NIL rules, have completely changed the game.

College football and basketball are now professional sports leagues functioning under an umbrella built for amateurs. They’ve outgrown the infrastructure of college sports.

That is a conundrum for another day. And while the whole thing feels at risk of spinning out of control, like a planet falling out of orbit from the sun and into outer darkness, we can only operate under the current set of circumstances.

So, if I’m one of the 10 remaining Pac-12 schools looking at the Big Ten, do I want in?


Especially if I’m Oregon.

Would it be fun seeing the Ducks decamp for the Big Ten? Certainly not. But as Warren said earlier this week: “There’s two types of people in the world: They look at change as it’s a problem, or they look at change as an opportunity.”

Oregon football is too visible of a brand, has had too much success and has too much financial backing to languish in a junior conference.

That’s what the Pac-12 seems destined to become barring some creative and timely maneuvering from Kliavkoff, a reality that makes his message on Friday all the more vital.

And here’s the primary question: What can he do to ensure that the Pac-12 is truly the best option for its programs and not just a failsafe?

Is there anything?

Because it’s not money, not with the Pac-12 losing the Los Angeles television footprint.

It’s not competition away, not when the Big Ten and SEC are poaching historical contenders like USC, Texas and Oklahoma, and the Pac-12 is expected to fill out its ranks by raiding the more humble Mountain West.

And it’s not visibility, not with the Big Ten suddenly enjoying a national coast-to-coast footprint, providing football fans with more coverage than many cellular providers.

Can you hear me now?

Simply put, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the Pac-12 enjoys stability from realignment until, and if, the Big Ten and SEC say they have satisfied their appetites for growth.

And that doesn’t seem to be happening.

So rather than focus on the quarterback battle in Eugene or the optimism in Corvallis that Oregon State can improve on its first seven-win season in nearly a decade, we’re left to contemplate where and against whom the Ducks and Beavers will be playing in 2024 — and beyond.

The Ducks were picked to finish second in the Pac-12′s annual media poll. The Beavers fifth. That’s a strong local showing and portends many Saturdays with high stakes football being played.

At some point soon, realignment will thankfully take a backseat to the actual games.

But it’s not going away. The only way for it to go away is to be left behind.

— Bill Oram | boram@oregonian.com | Twitter: @billoram

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