U.C.L.A. Is Allowed by California Regents to Join Big Ten
LOS ANGELES — The University of California Board of Regents voted on Wednesday to approve U.C.L.A.’s move to the Big Ten Conference, but attached conditions meant to ensure that money the school reaps from its new league’s lucrative television contract would offset the byproductsof athletes making repeated trips across the country for sporting events.
The board also voted to impose what one regent called “a Berkeley tax,” compensation that could reach $10 million per year that U.C.L.A. would have to pay its sister school, the University of California, Berkeley, whose television revenue will be decreased by the Pac-12 Conference’s loss of the Los Angeles market.
The decision comes after nearly six months of deliberation from a board that was ultimately reluctant to undo a move that had already been approved by U.C.L.A. Chancellor Gene Block, but that had various concerns about athlete welfare and the impact on Cal-Berkeley’s bottom line.
“In the end, we’re a system, not an individual campus,” Richard Leib, the board chairman, said after the proposal passed by an 11-5 vote. “We’ve never had a situation where a decision by one campus had this kind of impact on another campus within our system.”
The Big Ten television contract will bring U.C.L.A. $60 million to 70 million per year — about double the current arrangement with the Pac-12, which is in the middle of contract negotiations for its own media rights deal that will suffer from the loss of two flagship Los Angeles schools, U.C.L.A and Southern California, to the Big Ten.
The move, though, does not come without its own costs.
U.C.L.A. will be required to spend as much as $12.2 million on additional mental health, nutritional and academic support, and charter flights to ferry its athletes across the country more frequently for competition. That is $1.89 million more than U.C.L.A. estimated it would need to spend.
U.C.L.A. will also be mandated to annually contribute $2 million to $10 million to Cal-Berkeley. The regents will determine the number when the Pac-12 reaches an agreement on a new television contract, which it is expected to do in the first half of 2023.
The original proposal called for U.C.L.A. to contribute between $2 million and $5 million to Cal, but the regent Jay Sures proposed raising the limit to $10 million.
“We’re OK. We’re comfortable,” said Block, the longtime chancellor who said he was “sad” to be leaving the Pac-12. “It’s up to the board to decide what the number is. From the very beginning, we said we understand we may have to help Berkeley with this.”
Cal-Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, who had hoped the regents would block U.C.L.A.’s move, brushed past a reporter as she left the meeting immediately after it ended. “I’ve got nothing to say,” she said.
Lark Park, one of the five regents who voted against the approval, said “it wasn’t there for me,” but declined to elaborate. Leib believed that those who opposed the deal did so for philosophical reasons. “Some people felt it would be better to put the genie back in the bottle and try to get U.C.L.A. back to the Pac-12 is my guess,” he said.
That the vote took place on U.C.L.A.’s campus, in the Luskin Center, which is tucked beside the football team’s practice fields and the basketball arena, the historic Pauley Pavilion, may have seemed symbolic — but it was coincidental. A special meeting to address health services committee matters had been previously scheduled for Wednesday.
For a process that dragged on longer than many regents — and U.C.L.A., Pac-12 and Big Ten officials — had expected, it was fitting that Wednesday’s meeting had to overcome its own unexpected hurdles.
The meeting was delayed for two hours by protesters representing striking academic workers, who twice interrupted it by chanting, sitting on the floor and refusing to leave until police handcuffed them and led them out. Wednesday marked one month since the start of the strike, which has affected about 48,000 workers throughout the sprawling university system.
In all, 14 protesters were arrested for trespassing on Wednesday.
Several hundred protesters, including a man playing an accordion, carried picket signs, chanted and paraded around the Luskin Center, which was encircled by a temporary chain-link fence and fortified by police and campus security guards.
The regents’ decision brings to a close a drama that began on June 30, when the U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. sent shock waves through the college sports landscape by announcing they were bolting the Pac-12 for the Big Ten.
U.S.C., as a private institution, could act freely. But an early indication that there might be complications for U.C.L.A. came quickly when Gov. Gavin Newsom of California expressed his displeasure with being left in the dark over a move that had significant consequences for the U.C. system’s marquee campuses.
Indeed, in an August meeting, the regents were informed by their general counsel that they had the authority to block U.C.L.A.’s move if they so desired.
The move was portrayed as a financial salvation for U.C.L.A.
The athletic department deficit has skyrocketed over the last three years from zero to $103.1 million, according to the school’s statement of revenues of expenses, thanks to a confluence of cratering football attendance, the former football coach Jim Mora’s contract buyout, the breach of Under Armour’s apparel deal and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
U.C.L.A. Athletic Director Martin Jarmond had said that the school — which has won 120 national championships across a variety of sports — might have dropped some sports if the move to the Big Ten was nixed. U.C.L.A. has made minimal contributions — $60,000 in direct support in 2021 — to its athletic department over the years, in stark contrast to many other schools, including Cal.
Still, U.C.L.A.’s intended move was contentious, even within its own community.
Fans and alumni peppered Block and Jarmond with angry emails, saying that for a quick buck they had sold out U.C.L.A.’s athletes — and its fans, who would have to travel much farther to see them play.
Bill Walton, the famed former basketball star and popular broadcaster, urged the regents in a letter to block the move — as did Ramogi Huma, a college athletes rights advocate and former U.C.L.A. football player.
“Within the U.C.L.A. community, it’s almost like a civil war,” Leib said Wednesday morning. “People on the same side are fighting with each other. I know booster groups who are on both sides of the issue.”
He added: “Money has a lot to do with it. Some big boosters say U.C.L.A. comes to us for money for its athletes and here’s an opportunity to get some and now you’re not going to let us do that? On the other hand, we have traditionalists who will be upset because this is upsetting the apple cart.”
The regents also considered the legal consequences of blocking the move, though most of those would likely have been mitigated by the $15 million buyout in U.C.L.A.’s contract with the Big Ten — a figure that the Pac-12 has signaled it would be willing to pay.
“Anybody can sue about anything,” said Leib, a lawyer. “My feeling is we aren’t really being guided by that. We’re being guided by what’s the right thing to do.”