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Sports >  NCAA

University of California leaders propose limits on major athletics changes in wake of UCLA’s jump to Big Ten

Aug. 17, 2022 Updated Wed., Aug. 17, 2022 at 8:05 p.m.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson throws a pass against USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.  (Tribune News Service)
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson throws a pass against USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Tribune News Service)
By Ben Bolch and Teresa Watanabe Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – Concerned about UCLA’s hasty exit from the Pac-12, the University of California system leadership proposed Wednesday new rules that could limit campuses from making major decisions involving athletics contracts on their own.

An interim report, discussed during a regents meeting at UCLA’s Luskin Center, recommended potential limits on the UC president’s ability to delegate decision-making authority to campuses on such issues as athletics affiliations or conference memberships in certain cases. They include those that would have a significant adverse impact on other campuses in the UC system; raise major issues involving university policy; or could create significant risk of reputational harm to the university or any UC campus.

While the regents have not taken action to stop the Bruins’ move – alongside cross-town rival USC – to the Big Ten in 2024, they have voiced concerns about the unilateral decision that essentially excluded them from the process. The regents are expected to vote on the proposal to change the delegation of authority in similar situations during their September meeting.

Current regents policy allows each university to control its athletics operations based on precedent. In 1991, the UC Office of the President delegated authority to campus chancellors to execute their own contracts, including intercollegiate athletic agreements.

But Board of Regents Chair Richard Leib told The Los Angeles Times earlier that the delegation of authority “didn’t necessarily anticipate this type of action.”

The UC proposal would also require the university president to give advance notice of major athletics decisions to the board chair and chair of the committee with jurisdiction over the matter at hand. Those leaders would then decide if the matter should go to the full board for discussion.

The report also revealed that USC’s move to the Big Ten would represent an estimated loss of roughly $9.8 million in annual media rights for each of the remaining Pac-12 campuses given the Trojans’ status as a football viewership juggernaut; it suggested that UCLA’s departure could lead to another loss of roughly one-third that figure as well as the additional loss of ticket and apparel sales for remaining Pac-12 teams.

Among the nine UC campuses, the report declared that only Cal Berkeley expected to experience a significant impact from UCLA’s departure.

Assessing 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, plus women’s soccer, softball, gymnastics, women’s volleyball and women’s tennis. According to Pamela Brown, the UC vice president of institutional research and academic planning, teams could experience as much as an additional 24-hour difference in the time commitment for a Big Ten trips as opposed to ones in the Pac-12.

UCLA’s football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams have charter flights, meaning they would be marginally impacted.

Sam Andress, who identified himself as a longtime supporter of UCLA’s athletic department, said during the public comment portion of the meeting he supported the Bruins’ move and questioned the relevance of its impact on a rival.

“I find it a little bit shocking and unconscionable that you would expect fans, donors and alums to really look at what it meant for the campus up north,” Andress said. ” … I think it’s going to be a net positive for Los Angeles and the UCLA community.”

During their discussion, regents zeroed in on concerns over the impact on student health and academic performance due to longer traveling times to Big Ten games and financial fallout, particularly on UC Berkeley.

The regents directed UC to conduct the review after Gov. Gavin Newsom demanded more 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 competing in a coast-to-coast conference as well as the financial fallout that would result from rival UC Berkeley being left behind in a diminished Pac-12.

Newsom did not attend the regents meeting Wednesday.

Last month, Leib said UCLA engineered its Pac-12 departure quietly, informing UC President Michael V. Drake about discussions with the Big Ten but informing a “handful” of regents only shortly before the decision was announced.

Switching conferences is expected to significantly improve UCLA’s athletic department finances while increasing the size of its recruiting base and enhancing its brand in a rapidly shifting college sports landscape. Before a recent court settlement with Under Armour, the Bruins’ athletic department was saddled with a record $102.8 million deficit. UCLA also faced the prospect of cutting Olympic sports teams in the years to come had the school remained in the Pac-12, whose revenue has fallen well behind that of 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 reportedly could fetch a record $1.5 billion annually. The conference’s media partners are expected to include CBS and NBC in addition to Fox, which has been a longtime carrier of Big Ten games.

UCLA scored another victory late last month when it secured a $67.49 million settlement with Under Armour after having sued the sports apparel giant for breach of contract when Under Armour aborted the remaining years on a record $280 million deal. The school is expected to use the windfall to help pay down its debts.

Cal’s athletic department also is wiggling out of a financial bind. The Golden Bears completed the 2021 fiscal year with a $3.5 million surplus only after reportedly receiving $39 million from outside sources, including a $20.1 million check from the university to help cover expenses.

Campus officials are also bailing out their athletic department by covering 55% of the annual $20 million in debt service on the school’s football stadium renovation, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Cal’s finances figure to become even more strained in the years to come given the defections of the L.A. teams unless the Pac-12 holders can find a way to fortify themselves, possibly with new members. The Pac-12’s new media rights deal will take a significant hit without USC and UCLA drawing viewership from Southern California.

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