Is UCLA nearing the goal line in a move to the Big Ten, or could their plans be thwarted by a total thunderbolt?
Concerned about the Bruins’ hasty exit from the Pac-12, the University of California system board proposed new rules on Wednesday that could prevent the campus from making important decisions about sports contracts itself.
Of far more concern for UCLA was that two UC Regents and the UC System General Counsel suggested there might be a way to block the Bruins’ move, which has been widely regarded as 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 meeting of Regents at UCLA’s Luskin Center. “Essentially they extended it so that authority rested with the regents and the president.”
After the conclusion of a closed session that stretched for more than an hour, Regent John Perez told The Times that Regents retained the power to block UCLA’s move.
“All options are on the table,” he said.
Did that mean options could be pursued that would prevent the Bruins from moving to cross-city rivals USC as the newest members of the Big Ten starting in the summer of 2024?
“All options are on the table,” Perez repeated, “up to and including this one. … We’re going to look at what all the different options are and then the board will prevail in terms of the desired outcome.”
It was widely believed that a 1991 UC systems policy that delegated campus chancellors the authority to execute their own contracts, including intercollegiate athletic agreements, would give UCLA chancellor Gene Block latitude to unilaterally give the green light to the conference call to give to his school.
Not true, Robinson told the regents, who inquired about their options.
“One mechanism would be for the [regent] To tell the CEO, “I’m directing you to step down in this case,” Robinson said, “and the board will exercise authority in this area.”
After the end of the meeting, CEO Richard Leib confirmed his power of attorney.
“We always have the ability to retain authority,” he said, “which we heard today.”
The question is whether Leib would attempt to exercise that authority, as many believe that moving UCLA to the Big Ten would be a net plus for the UC system.
When asked if he would prefer to call off the deal, Leib told the Times it was “premature” to make that decision or to consider whether other rulers would support the move. Although several regents raised concerns about the impact of longer travel times on athletes’ health and academic performance, Leib said they could be mitigated. Using more charter flights, for example, is less tiring than commercial flights, he said.
An interim report discussed during the regents’ meeting recommended possible limits on the UC president’s ability to delegate decision-making authority to campus in certain cases on issues such as athletics affiliations or conference memberships. These include those that would have a significant adverse impact on other campuses in the UC system; raise important university policy issues; or could pose a significant risk of reputational damage to the university or a UC campus.
Regents raised concerns about UCLA’s unilateral decision, which essentially barred them from the process, and are expected to vote on a proposal to change the delegation in similar situations during their September meeting.
The UC proposal would also require the university president to provide advance notice of important athletics decisions to the board chair and the chair of the committee responsible for the matter at hand. These leaders would then decide whether the matter should go to the full board for discussion.
The report released Wednesday also revealed that USC’s move into the Big Ten would mean an estimated loss of about $9.8 million in annual media rights for each of the remaining Pac-12 campuses, given the Trojans’ status considered as a juggernaut of football viewers; It indicated that UCLA’s departure could result in another loss of about a third of that number, as well as an additional loss in ticket and apparel sales for the remaining Pac-12 teams.
Of the nine UC campuses, the report stated that only UC Berkeley expects UCLA’s departure to have a significant impact.
In evaluating the impact of UCLA’s move on the well-being of its athletes, the report showed that eight sports would experience significant travel consequences — baseball, men’s soccer and men’s tennis, as well as women’s soccer, softball, gymnastics, women’s volleyball and women’s tennis. According to Pamela Brown, UC vice president of institutional research and academic planning, teams could see an additional 24 hours difference in time spent on Big Ten trips compared to Pac-12 trips.
UCLA’s football, men’s and women’s basketball teams have charter flights, meaning they would be marginally affected.
Sam Andress, who described himself as a longtime supporter of UCLA’s athletic department, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that he supported the Bruins’ move and questioned the relevance of its impact on a rival.
“I find it a bit shocking and unconscionable that fans, donors and alumni are expected to really look at what it means for the North campus,” Andress said, referring to Cal. “…I think it’s going to be a positive outcome for Los Angeles and the UCLA community.”
Regents directed UC to conduct the review after Gov. Gavin Newsom requested more transparency on 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 how the move would affect UCLA athletes given the increased travel associated with attending a coast-to-coast conference, as well as the financial ramifications that would result if Cal was in a reduced pace- 12 would be left behind.
Newsom did not attend the Regents’ meeting on Wednesday.
Last month, Leib said UCLA had been quietly planning its Pac-12 exit and briefed UC President Michael V. Drake on talks with the Big Ten, but only briefed a “handful” of rulers shortly before announcing the decision.
The conference rotation is expected to significantly improve the finances of UCLA’s athletic department while increasing the size of its recruiting base and strengthening its brand in a rapidly changing collegiate athletic landscape. Prior to a recent court settlement with Under Armor, the Bruins’ athletic division was hit with a record $102.8 million deficit. UCLA also faced the prospect of cutting Olympic athletic teams in years to come if the school had stayed in the Pac-12, whose revenues would have lagged far behind those of its peers elsewhere in the country.
With the addition of the Los Angeles television market, thanks to the presence of USC and UCLA, the Big Ten land a media rights deal that could net a record $1.5 billion annually. Media partners at the conference are expected to include CBS and NBC, in addition to Fox, a longtime sponsor of Big Ten games.
UCLA scored another victory late last month when it reached a $67.49 million settlement with Under Armor after suing the sportswear giant for breach of contract as Under Armor ended the remaining years with a record $280 million deal. dollar broke off. The school is said to use the windfall to pay off its debt.
Cal’s athletic department is also struggling financially. The Golden Bears ended fiscal 2021 with a surplus of $3.5 million after reportedly receiving $39 million from outside sources, including a $20.1 million check from the University to cover expenses. According to the San Jose Mercury News, campus officials are also bailing out their athletic department by covering 55% of the school’s $20 million annual debt service for the school’s soccer stadium renovation.
Unless the Pac-12 owners find a way to strengthen themselves, possibly with new members, Cal’s finances are likely to get even tighter in the coming years with LA teams defecting. The Pac-12’s new media rights deal will be a big hit without attracting USC and UCLA viewers from Southern California.
That means, of course, if the Bruins can officially join their longtime nemesis as part of this seismic shift in the collegiate sports landscape.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-08-17/ucla-big-ten-move-uc-impact UC leaders weigh trying to stop UCLA’s jump to Big Ten