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Women’s basketball roundtable with Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff and Senior Associate Commissioner Teresa Gould

On championship day, the media met with senior conference officials. What did they have to say?

2021 Pac-12 Championship - Oregon v Utah Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff and Senior Associate Commissioner Teresa Gould joined the media before the Pac-12 women’s basketball championship game to discuss the state of Pac-12 women’s basketball. As always, some of the men in the room took it upon themselves to try to make it a football discussion, but for the most part, it stuck to the topic at hand. What did the conference do well in regards to women’s sports and what still needs to happen both at the conference and NCAA levels?

On scheduling

There have been conflicts about scheduling during the pandemic. Last season, very few teams rescheduled games. This season, while more games were rescheduled, there were still conflicts around those that weren’t played and whether some coaches are trying to game the system.

Early in the season, Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said that if the Pac-12 was enforcing forfeits, more people would “find the bodies” to get games played. Late in the season, there were interviews with coaches like Tara VanDerveer and Kelly Graves that suggested that there should be repercussions if games aren’t played.

“Tara and I align on a lot of things and this is one that we align on,” Graves told James Crepea of the Oregonian. “I just feel you got to play the games, man. I don’t care what the circumstances are, you’ve got to find a way to play the games and I’ve said that before. We had to go down to Arizona day of game, our backup plan was they’d have a 1 p.m. (flight out of Portland) that would have had to delay the start time, but we were going to get to the game. I told you if I have five players, I’m playing the game.”

Gould: “I don’t know that we expected to miss as many games as we missed, for sure. I think that’s fair to say. I would say in regards to the forfeits, the existing policies and regulations that we have in our conference that are consistent with how other conferences managed forfeits as well are established by the membership. George is empowered and authorized to make decisions in circumstances like this. And he followed the regulations and policies that we had. Clearly, we weren’t the only conference in the country that had forfeits. There were some other instances of forfeits. I think it’s fair to say that given the environment that we’re in, and how every single game of this conference counts, and really mean something in terms of conference standings and conference seedings, we will be having discussions this spring in our spring council meetings about whether or not our current approach with our current regulations that were implemented by the membership whether or not that’s the right approach and the fairest approach competitively.”

Are the coaches at each others’ throats more this year?

Related to the call for fines or other disciplinary action against programs that don’t play games and, almost surely, to the conflict between Barnes and Graves this year, Michelle Smith of asked if Kliavkoff and Gould thought the coaches were less collegial this year.

Gould: “I think one thing that I think is inherent when your conference becomes more competitive, and deeper, and you’re recruiting nationally to get the same young women on your campus, some of what we’re seeing is inherent to that because we’re just better and we’re more competitive. And I think I attribute some of what you’re describing as crankiness to that. I would also say, we haven’t been together as a league in person in a room in three years. That matters.”

Kliavkoff: “I don’t have the historic context, but given how competitive our league is, what high-quality women’s basketball play we have up and down the league, and the fact that we have five of the top eight recruiting classes coming in this year...we’re competitive and I’m surprised by how collegial our colleagues are in all sports, but particularly women’s basketball. And I think that comes from the leadership, comes from the top, and I think our more veteran coaches set that tone and coming out of COVID It’s probably a little bit more person, it’s a lot easier. And I think we’ll get back to whatever the historic context was. As an outsider, I’ve been quite pleased by how collegial it is.”

On the Pac-12’s position related to NCAA championships’ media rights

As it now stands, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and the Women’s College World Series have their media rights bundled with many Olympic sports and sold as one. It has been pointed out that this may be hindering women’s basketball and softball, which tend to have higher viewership numbers than some of the others. What is the conference’s position on that and how can it influence the discussion going forward?

Gould: “I would say in terms of our position and the mechanism through which we weigh in on those kinds of issues, obviously, as you know, the NCAA has a very elaborate governance structure and we have representatives on really all of the key committees that are discussing those issues and helping make those decisions and advise President Emmert on those decisions. We have a representative on the DI women’s basketball committee, on the softball committee, on the volleyball committee, kind of all of the Division I women’s sports committees. So those are the avenues through which we lend our perspective in addition to George and the commissioners being very active in this space. So obviously, coming out of both gender equity reviews—the basketball-specific review and the Olympic sports review, because there were two reviews—there’s been a lot of progress made and a lot of decisions made but there’s certainly a lot more yet to tackle from an NCAA perspective and certainly as a league, we feel like we have been very proactive in that space and would like to see the NCAA really consider how they approach their sponsorships, how they approach their media rights agreements to make sure that we’re putting our women’s sports in the most optimal, optimal position to succeed. Obviously, there’s been great viewership, growth in women’s sports, great fan attendance growth, and we’d like to see the NCAA put our women’s sports in the best position possible to grow. So we will work through our committee representatives, and certainly, the commissioners that are having these discussions with President Emmert all the time.”

Kliavkoff: “I’ll go one step further. I think the gender equity review for basketball that was done by the NCAA was very comprehensive. We read through it, talked about it. We agree with almost all of the recommendations in that report. One of the ones that we agree with is that women’s basketball bundled with other sports devalues the true media value of women’s basketball, and that if it was sold separately it would garner a larger media rights payment.”