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Pac-12 Commissioner Urges UC Regents to Block UCLA’s Move to Big Ten

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff presented to the Board of Regents of the University of California a three-page letter argue at Thursday’s session why they should block UCLA’s move to the Big Ten.

Kliavkoff’s plea attempted to quantify the impact of UCLA’s departure, but it wasn’t enough to convince the Board of Regents to make a final decision now. They reportedly delayed their verdict after three days of meetings.

“No decisions,” UC President Michael V Drake told the New York Times. “I think everyone collects information. It’s an evolving situation.”

Kliavkoff wrote that the financial benefits UCLA would derive from the Big Ten $7.5 billion media rights deal would be offset by increased coach salaries and travel expenses. He claimed that if all flights were chartered, UCLA’s travel budget, currently about $8 million annually, would almost quadruple.

According to Kliavkoff, UCLA athletes would double their time on airplanes and increase their time on buses traveling to the central and eastern time zones by nearly half, potentially taking a toll on their bodies, mental health and academic performance.

Kliavkoff added that because 70% of UCLA’s graduate students live on the West Coast, street matchups in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maryland are harder to attend. He also mentioned that increased travel contradicts the UC system’s climate goals and counteracts UCLA’s commitment to be “carbon neutral” by 2025.

“Any financial gain that UCLA will make from joining the Big Ten will ultimately go to airlines and charter companies, administrators’ and coaches’ salaries, and other recipients, rather than providing additional resources to student-athletes,” Kliavkoff wrote.

A source said ESPN that UCLA’s internal estimates show that the school expects to spend about $6-10 million more per year on travel, significantly less than the potential $23 million increase referenced in Kliavkoff’s letter. That’s a relative drop in the bucket compared to the additional $38 million in media revenue UCLA is projected to rake in by 2027. UCLA has defended the Big Ten’s move as a financial lifeline securing the future of non-revenue sports like swimming.

CEO Richard Leib told the NYT that he expects the regents to decide by the end of the year. UCLA is scheduled to join the Big Ten in August 2024. One issue Regents are considering is avoiding potential litigation. If the Regents force UCLA to stay in the Pac-12, “that would be a big deal,” Leib said. “There would be a lot of people happy and a lot of people upset.”

The Regents have legitimate concerns about how UCLA’s exit — and the loss of Los Angeles’ lucrative media market — could financially impact other UC campuses, particularly Cal-Berkeley. The move is expected to cost Cal more than $10 million per year — likely more than 10% of the school’s annual athletic operating income — in addition to the estimated $9.8 million lost from USC’s departure.

UCLA did not ask the Regents for permission to leave the Pac-12 three months ago, even though California law requires system schools to discuss important decisions with the governing body. Luckily for UCLA, that could be the definition of a major decision are up for debatewith a recent clarification of the regents conveniently adding the 10% mark as the standard for “significant adverse financial impact” related to sports movement.

Even if the Regents did indeed have the legal authority to block UCLA’s move, it would set a precedent that could have significant backlash.

As John Sandbrookwho was chief of staff to former UC President Mark Yudof and longtime UCLA Deputy Chancellor under Charles Young, the said LA times in July:

“If the Regents set the precedent that any action taken under delegations of authority can be reversed by the board, any loan agreement for a new campus building, the acceptance of a gift, the naming of a building – all of these matters would then be in question .”

UCLA, which has a women’s swim and dive program but no men’s team, begins its season in the pool Oct. 7-8 at the Fresno State Invitational. The Bruins finished 4th in the Pac-12 Championships and 35th in the NCAA Championships last season.

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