Is UCLA close to the goal line on its way to the Big Ten, or could its plans be thwarted by a total blitz?
Concerned about the Bruins’ hasty exit from the Pac-12, the University of California’s systems leadership on Wednesday proposed new rules that could restrict campuses from making key decisions regarding athletic contracts on their own.
Far more worrying for UCLA, two UC regents and the UC system’s general counsel suggested there might be a way to block Bruins’ move, which has been widely considered a fait accompli since it was announced in late June.
“It’s important to understand that when the regents delegated authority to the president, they didn’t give it away or lose it,” UC systems attorney Charlie Robinson said during a regent meeting at UCLA’s Luskin Center. “Basically, what they did was expand it so that the authority lay with the regents.” and the president.”
After the close of a more than an hour-long closed session, regent John Perez told The Times the regents retained the power to block UCLA’s move.
“All options are on the table,” he said.
Did this mean options could be pursued that would prevent the Bruins from joining city rival USC as the newest members of the Big Ten from the summer of 2024?
“All options are on the table,” Perez repeated, “up to that. … We’re going to see what all the different options look like and then the board will assert itself in terms of what the desired outcome is.”
It was widely believed that a 1991 UC System Policy that delegated powers to campus chancellors to execute their own contracts, including peer athletic agreements, would give UCLA Chancellor Gene Block the leeway to unilaterally green-light his school’s conference switch.
Not so, Robinson told the regents who inquired about their options.
“A mechanism would be for the [regent] chairman of the board to say, ‘I instruct you to resign in this case,’ said Robinson, ‘and the board of directors will exercise authority in this area.’
Richard Leib, the chairman of the board of directors, confirmed his power after the meeting.
“We always have the ability to maintain authority,” he said, “what we heard today.”
The question is whether Leib would attempt to exercise that authority, as many believe the move from UCLA to the Big Ten would be a net plus for the UC system.
Asked whether he would prefer to scrap the deal, Leib told The Times it was “premature” to make that decision or evaluate whether other regents would support the move. While several regents expressed concerns about the impact on athletes’ health and academic performance due to longer travel times, Leib said these could be mitigated. For example, using more charter flights would be less strenuous than commercial flights, he said.
An interim report, discussed at the regent meeting, recommended possible restrictions on the UC president’s ability to delegate decision-making power to campuses in certain cases on things like athletic affiliations or conference memberships. They include those that would have a significant negative impact on other campuses in the UC system; address major university policy issues; or may pose a significant reputational risk to the university or a UC campus.
The regents expressed concern about UCLA’s unilateral decision, which essentially excluded them from the trial, and are expected to vote on the proposal to change the delegation of authority in similar situations at their meeting in September.
The UC proposal would also require the university president to report major athletic decisions in advance to the board chair and chair of the committee responsible for the particular matter. Those leaders would then decide whether to take the matter to the full council for discussion.
The report released Wednesday also revealed that USC’s move to the Big Ten would mean an estimated loss of about $9.8 million in annual media rights to each of the remaining Pac-12 campuses, given the Trojans’ status as a football watcher. ; it suggested that UCLA’s departure could lead to another loss of about a third of that figure, as well as the additional loss of ticket and apparel sales for the remaining Pac-12 teams.
Of the nine UC campuses, the report stated that only UC Berkeley expected a significant impact from UCLA’s departure.
The report assessed the impact of UCLA’s move on the wellbeing of its athletes and showed that eight sports would have significant impacts on the trip: baseball, men’s soccer and men’s tennis, plus women’s soccer, softball, gymnastics, women’s volleyball and women’s tennis. According to Pamela Brown, the UC’s vice president of institutional research and academic planning, teams may experience an additional 24-hour difference in time spent on a Big Ten trip as opposed to that in the Pac-12.
UCLA’s soccer, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball teams are chartered, meaning they are marginally affected.
Sam Andress, who identified himself as a longtime supporter of UCLA’s athletics division, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that he supported Bruins’ move and questioned the relevance of its impact on a rival.
“I find it a bit shocking and unscrupulous that you would expect fans, donors and alumni to actually look at what it meant to the campus up north,” Andress said, referring to Cal. “…I think it will be a net positive for Los Angeles and the UCLA community.”
The regents ordered UC to conduct the review after Governor Gavin Newsom demanded greater transparency about the details of UCLA’s plan to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in August 2024. Among other things, Newsom wanted to know the impact of the move on UCLA athletes given the increased travel associated with participating in a coast-to-coast conference and the financial ramifications that would result from leaving Cal in a reduced Pac -12.
Newsom was not present at the regent meeting on Wednesday.
Last month, Leib said UCLA had been quietly preparing for the Pac-12’s departure, briefing UC President Michael V. Drake about talks with the Big Ten, but only briefing a “handful” of regents shortly before the decision was announced. .
Switching conferences is expected to significantly improve the finances of UCLA’s athletics department, while increasing the size of its recruiting base and elevating its brand in a rapidly changing college sports landscape. Before a recent court settlement with Under Armor, the Bruins sports department was saddled with a record deficit of $102.8 million. UCLA also faced the prospect of scrapping its Olympic sports teams in the coming years if the school had stayed in the Pac-12, whose revenues lag far behind its counterparts in other parts of the country.
With the addition of the Los Angeles television market, thanks to the presence of USC and UCLA, the Big Ten is finalizing a media rights deal that could bring in a record $1.5 billion a year. The conference’s media partners are expected to include CBS and NBC in addition to Fox, which has been a long-time carrier of Big Ten games.
UCLA took another win late last month when it got a $67.49 million settlement with Under Armor after it sued the sportswear giant for breach of contract when Under Armor cut its remaining years off on a record $280 million deal. The school is expected to use the windfall to pay off its debts.
Cal’s athletic department is also reeling from a financial tie. The Golden Bears ended fiscal year 2021 with a $3.5 million surplus after reportedly receiving $39 million from outside sources, including a check for $20.1 million from the university to cover expenses. Campus officials also saved their athletic department by paying 55% of its $20 million annual debt service for the renovation of the school’s football stadium, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Cal’s finances will come under even more strain in the coming years, given the defection of the LA teams unless the Pac-12 holders can find a way to bolster themselves, possibly with new members. The Pac-12’s new media rights deal will be a big hit without USC and UCLA drawing viewers from Southern California.
That is, of course, if the Bruins can formally join their longtime nemesis as part of this seismic shift in the college sports landscape.