LOS ANGELES — It’s been a month since news broke that USC and UCLA were joining the Big Ten, and the frustration and anger toward the two L.A. schools hasn’t subsided much from within the Pac-12 — if at all.
“UCLA and USC obviously made a decision for short-term financial gain,” Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff told The Athletic on Friday. “It’s 100 percent clear to me. I think they’re already regretting it, considering the pushback they’ve gotten from almost every quarter. I think they will regret it more as time goes on.
Klivekoff was on his first vacation since taking over as commissioner a year ago when the news broke. He was in Montana, driving to Idaho, in an area without much cell phone reception, when he received several texts from the deputy commissioner.
The amazing part to me is that the Pac-12 has a mission related to student-athlete health and wellness, and this is a decision that, in my opinion, is in direct conflict with health and wellness. – Being student-athletes. That’s what’s interesting to me.
A Pac-12 athletic director told The Athletic on Friday that the most surprising aspect of the move is that it is a public school affiliated with California-Berkeley and that the Bruins’ move was on UCLA’s side, and that the Bruins’ move was prompted by Gov. Gavin Newsom is broke. The University of California Board of Regents has ordered a review of how the decision was made.
Another Pac-12 coach told The Athletic, “I wasn’t shocked because I’ve been in this business for so long, but I was surprised to get the idea that UCLA couldn’t be paired with Cal because of the whole buyer thing.” “They are governed by the same group, and it is illogical that the same regulatory board would harm one over the other. This is against their responsibility. That’s where the surprise comes in.
“Look at all the work Oklahoma and Texas had to do 12 years ago when the Pac-12 tried to invade them. But they were always pairing Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, and that stopped him. So, they learned their lesson, and did whatever work they needed to do behind the scenes to fix it. UCLA has not done any work because this should not be a political issue at this time. It will be interesting to see what happens in that trial.
Additionally, Klivekoff said trying to poach Pac-12 programs has not hindered his feelings for the Big 12’s leadership, citing many improvements.
“I’m trying to focus on things that move the conference forward, and spend as little time as possible on fake news and nonsense from other conferences in an effort to destabilize us. ” he said.
When asked about his relationship with Brett Yormark, Klivekoff said he and the new Big 12 commissioner have spoken twice in the past month. “I told him I believe college athletics will be healthy when we have a healthy and active Big 12 and a healthy and active Pac-12. It’s important to have those voices in the CFP[College Football Playoff]room. We have those conversations, and people in the conference went out of their way to destabilize our conference.” I remember that over and over again, and it’s a recurring pattern.”
Kliavkoff declined to go into specifics about how Yormark responded to that, other than adding, “It’s in the best interest of college athletics if both conferences are strong.” It’s true that I know we’re going to be strong, and I think if he does the right thing, they’re going to be fine.
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Cameron Ward Could Be The Man: There are plenty of promising transfer prospects in the Pac-12 this year, but by far the biggest hype is USC’s Caleb Williams, an Oklahoma transfer. But new Washington State offensive coordinator Eric Morris says he thinks his son Cameron Ward could be the best quarterback in the league.
“You’ll soon see,” Morris said of people who ignore word of mouth. “This kid’s got some special stuff. I’ve been around great people. I know what that’s like. It’s a joy for the world to see this kid come alive.”
Ward said Friday it made him feel good to hear that.
“It’s crazy that someone like Coach Morris would take a shot at a zero-star kid from a small town in Texas and bring me to Pullman, Washington,” he said. Having him in my corner, knowing that he trusts me and trusts me to work that system is something I live by every day, and I’m ready to prove myself.
He chose Washington State over Ole Miss, Indiana and West Virginia. Ward, who threw for an FCS-best 47 touchdowns and nearly 4,700 yards at Incarnate Word, said he takes special pride in being a one-time zero-star prospect. “Because I always knew in my mind that I was a five-star. I always felt like I could compete with those guys, but the situation I was in, in high school, playing in a Wing-T run-heavy offense — probably threw the ball seven or eight times on a typical Friday night.” Not much of a movie out there, but everything happens for a reason.
Utah has reason for optimism: Cameron Reesing made first-team All-Pac-12 last season, posting a 20-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and rushing for 499 yards and six touchdowns for the conference champions. It is predicted by the league media to repeat.
Reesing told The Athletic that he lacked arm strength all last season, having major surgery on his shoulder, but now has “more oomph” to deliver the ball. He said it was probably around 80 percent last year. “Sometimes I’m not comfortable throwing the deep ball. I used to feel like I had to muscle up to make those throws, but now I feel confident enough to let it rip.
The punter was primed for separation: Stanford’s EJ Smith, son of the legendary Emmitt Smith, rushed for just 133 yards last season, but 6-foot, 213-pound junior quarterback Cue Blue Kelly and Tanner McKee were named Stanford’s punter. Very early for the holiday season.
“He’s going to have a great year,” Mackie predicted. “He’s very versatile. Can run routes, cool pass pro guy, really patient, great vision, really hits the hole, makes people miss in space. It is the total package. We are very excited for it.
Stanford could use the incentive. Last season, the Cardinal ranked last in the Pac-12 in rushing, with just under 87 yards per game. Stanford, once the league’s powerhouse, finished second in rushing for the third time in the last four seasons.
Check out the Beavers’ running backs: Jonathan Smith has had two talented running backs in his four seasons at Oregon State. Two seasons ago, Jermar Jefferson led the Pac-12 in rushing. Last season, BJ Baylor did. Deshaun Fenwick, who rushed for 127 yards against Washington State last season, returns. But keep an eye on freshman Damien Martinez, a 5-foot-11, 228-pound three-star recruit from Texas. Smith isn’t an explosive guy, but he’s excited about Martinez’s physicality and how quickly he’s picked things up in the spring.
Are you, ASU?: Arizona State, which has had as much roster turnover since the offseason as any team in the country, has had significant personnel changes in the wake of an ongoing NCAA investigation into a recruiting scandal. Busy head coach Herm Edwards pointed out that the Devils have 43 new players. It should be noted that Utah State had 44 newcomers last season and went from a winning season to a Mountain West title. Edwards said he has a target date to get a better feel for what kind of team he has.
“Looking at the gel from afar now, some of them in the spring, we’ve added some now, a really tight group of guys in my opinion.” But how do they play together, how do they come together? I think you probably won’t know this until after the third week of competition. I think you can figure out how they play together after three weeks. And I told that to the team. Then you can decide what kind of group you belong to. That’s the fun part about coaching.
(Photo by George Kliavkoff, left, Pac-12 Senior Associate Commissioner Merton Hanks, center, and Stanford AD Bernard Muir: Kirby Lee / USA TODAY)