LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 29 2021: Rick Caruso, from left, USC President Carol L. Fault, USC's new head football coach.

USC President Carol Folt ‘shut down’ potential Pac-12 expansion plans last year

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 29 2021: Rick Caruso, from left, USC President Carol L. Fault, USC's new head football coach.

USC President Carol Fault, second left, stands with (from left) USC Board of Trustees President Rick Caruso, football coach Lincoln Riley and athletic director Mike Bohn during Riley’s introductory news conference on November 29, 2021. (Brian van der Brugge/Los Angeles Times)

Late last summer, opportunity knocked on the Pac-12’s door. Texas and Oklahoma were relegated to the Southeastern Conference, leaving the remaining big 12 schools in the dust with no other option but to look west as an increasingly secure “Power Five” conference home.

Certainly, the Pac-12’s football product was down for more than a decade due to USC’s decline. But the Trojans still represent a blue blood, the flagship program based in the country’s No. 2 media market. As for Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12, USC’s original attendance was on par with the fixture. And, in the formation of college sports conventions, such a tide can lift all boats.

First-year Pac-12 commissioner George Kliwkopf was getting calls from desperate Big 12 schools and zeroed in on something that added enough value to strongly consider expanding the Pac-12 footprint across America’s Great Plains.

Kliavkoff assembled a committee of three presidents and three athletic directors to decide whether to recommend an expansion into the larger group. The group met on a Zoom call to move to the 20-slide deck. But the Pac-12 was only 15 minutes into its hour-long presentation before USC President Carol Fault spoke.

Fault told the group that he did not understand why the Pac-12 would expand and expressed surprise that they were even talking about it, according to several sources who were familiar with the call but due to the sensitivity of the subject to the public. were not authorized to speak.

“Carol pulls it off,” said a source.

“She froze the whole process,” said another source.

In late August, the Pac-12 announced that it would not be expanding.

Ten months later on June 30, USC and UCLA announced that they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten beginning in August 2024, continuing college football’s movement toward the two superpower conferences, Texas, Oklahoma and the SEC. Started last summer.

Now that USC and UCLA are headed for the Chicago-based Big Ten, Stanford, Washington and Oregon are included in the next wave of Big Ten goals after the priority Notre Dame, putting the Pac-12 in further danger. has gone.

Meanwhile, the Big 12, which added four new members to the remaining eight schools, banded together, ready to take on any Pac-12 schools with a wandering eye.

The Pac-12 could top 12 schools last summer, regardless of the long-term intentions of LA schools to rank itself as one of the top four conferences. Instead, the negative reaction from USC, combined with its participation in the Big Ten a year later, has put the Pac-12 in a precarious position.

“We are not going to respond to anonymous comments or rumors,” Fault said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.

USC President Carol Fault addresses graduates during an opening ceremony at USC on May 13.

USC President Carol Fault addresses graduates during an opening ceremony at USC on May 13. (Jason Armand / Los Angeles Times)

At the time, there were clear reasons USC would not want to expand. Within the Pac-12, USC leaders were not the only ones to express such reservations. Adding members would mean splitting the Pac-12’s already hopelessly small revenue pot into more hands. And, given that USC had not yet been invited to the college football playoffs, adding more competition to its own conference would only make it harder to meet that elusive goal.

On Friday’s Pac-12 Media Day, Kleevkopf recalled that he was vacationing in Montana with his family on Thursday morning when he received an urgent text message from a Pac-12 officer. While driving in Idaho, he found a place with cellphone reception and pulled over. He quickly rammed the car, feeling blinded by the news that his Los Angeles lynchpin had betrayed his nearly century-old relationship with the league and its peer institutions.

Not even a year into his term as Pac-12 commissioner, Kliwkoff didn’t have much time to cheer up his flagship program. He was definitely in the process of trying. Removing the division tie-in to the league’s championship game would certainly help USC. But now the Trojans were gone without warning, as Klewkopf was given no sign of the Trojan’s wanderings.

USC coach Lincoln Riley said Friday that the school’s openness to evaluate its future conference affiliation was discussed with him before taking the job at the end of November.

“I had a little head with it,” Riley said. “When I took the job, we had conversations, not specifically about the Big Ten, not about an imminent move, but we knew we had to monitor the scenario of what was happening. We have to be ahead, and that’s why I’m glad that our people were so progressive that I think this is going to be a great opportunity. I certainly understand the reasons behind this and fully support it.”

A year later the Pac-12 could seize the moment by leading expansion in its upcoming media rights talks – the league could add Texas Christian, for example, to add the Dallas-Fort Worth media market to its offerings – Klivkoff now Fighting from a far less advantageous position for the future of his league.

USC coach Lincoln Riley speaks to reporters during Pac-12 Media Day at LA Live on Friday.

USC coach Lincoln Riley speaks to reporters during Pac-12 Media Day at LA Live on Friday. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Asked at his press conference Friday whether USC had “misled” him, Kliwkoff said, “I’m not going to talk about that. We’re going to take the High Road and look at what happened in the past.” Won’t talk about it.”

Kliavkoff said the past month has been a “whirlwind”.

“For the past four weeks we’ve had two board meetings a week,” Kleevkopf said. “Looking my colleagues in the eye, understanding their commitment, that their first priority is making sure the Pac-12 survives, thrives and grows and is successful. They are committed to the convention. I think that The best thing to do is to ask them about it.”

The natural follow-up given recent events: Why would Kliavkoff — or anyone in college athletics, for that matter — trust anyone else?

Later on Friday morning, Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens spoke with a group of reporters about the state of his school. Oregon is the top remaining football brand of the Pac-12 and is believed to be gaining a spot in the Big Ten. But, without the invitation in hand, the duck has no choice but to stick with the Pac-12 and make the best of it.

“Your initial reaction is one of personal feelings and what this means for your league and my school,” Mullens said, “but at the end of the day, what were [USC and UCLA] supposed to do? They are also in a difficult position. I try to back away from it.”

It was a media day unlike any other in the history of the Pac-12. Ironically, the event was held at the Novo Theater in downtown LA, and yet, USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn and UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond a few miles from their campuses to support their football coaches and players. was absent for his customary performance.

For the next two years, the Pac-12 president and athletic directors and coaches would split their meetings into two parts—one that could be kept secret to the Trojans and Bruins and one that was now barred from attending because of a conflict of interest. has given. ,

Kliavkoff tried to “take the high road” Friday in his prepared remarks about USC and UCLA, expressing his dismay, saying, “We share our thoughts with their student-athletes, coaches, staff, faculty, alumni and fans.” cherish relationships.”

But, hearing him dispel his displeasure with the priority of money over athlete welfare in college athletics, no one wondered where he was pointing his finger in the decision.

Kliavkoff said, “We must measure … our ability to provide our student-athletes with the highest level of athletic competition without unnecessary travel, time demands and other burdens on competition.” Kliavkoff said.

“We are at a critical juncture and the decisions we make in the near future will determine whether we move towards a world in which a handful of conferences are playing professional sports at the cost of thousands of educational opportunities.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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