The University of California Board of Regents is expected to finalize its position on UCLA’s planned departure to the Big Ten when it meets Thursday morning in San Francisco.
Guessing along with the board is risky business, but all signs indicate the months-long review is nearing a conclusion.
The regents are scheduled to discuss UCLA’s move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten in the summer of 2024 during a closed session on the UCSF campus, then take action during an open session at 10:15 a.m., according to the agenda posted on the regents’ website.
The executive summary of the action item reads as follows:
“In the final months of 2022, UCLA will begin planning for its athletics programs in 2024, including recruitment of student-athletes and scheduling of competitions. Following the Board’s noticed open session discussion and to provide clarity on UCLA’s conference membership, the Board of Regents will take action on UCLA’s agreement to join the Big Ten in 2024. Recommendation language will be developed to reflect the Board’s consensus during its open session discussion.”
There are at least three potential outcomes:
— The board could block UCLA’s move using regental authority that was confirmed by general counsel Charlie Robinson during an August meeting.
— The regents could allow the move to proceed as planned but attach a penalty, or subsidy, to compensate Cal’s athletic department for a decline in Pac-12 revenue resulting from UCLA’s departure.
— The regents could, after months of bluster and discussion, wipe their hands of the matter and let the Bruins enter the Big Ten unencumbered.
One unknown, at least to the general public, is the degree to which California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who oversees the board, is willing to fight the move.
Any attempt to reverse UCLA’s decision could carry legal entanglements because of the Big Ten’s new media rights deal, which was announced in August and includes UCLA’s membership.
Also unclear is whether the regents will, in fact, make the ultimate decision.
It’s possible that the board declines to wield authority unilaterally and instead issues a recommendation to UCLA chancellor Gene Block.
Asked if the board would vote on the matter, a spokesperson for the regents offered the following statement:
“This (agenda) notice includes topics for potential action and discussion by the UC Regents, but does not require them to pursue said action or discussion if scheduling needs change or they elect not to do so.”
The regents also published a nine-page report on UCLA’s move that features important context:
— A survey of 600 UCLA athletes revealed that 35 percent said joining the Big Ten would be a good idea, seven percent said it would be a bad idea, 38 percent needed more information and 20 percent had no opinion.
Per the report:
“Respondents who thought the proposed move was a good idea believed additional revenues would support all sports teams and athletes and provide better competitive opportunities and national exposure.
“Respondents seeking more information wanted to know if or how additional revenue would support teams beyond football and basketball, along with plans to mitigate travel impacts and missed instruction.”
— The Bruins expect to spend approximately $10 million annually to meet the demands of life in the Big Ten. The expenses include chartered flights and increased nutritional and academic support.
“Nutrition, travel experience, academic support, and mental health services were noted as key areas for improvement in light of the planned change in conferences,” the report noted.
“UCLA estimates that the potential increases in revenues associated with moving to the Big Ten, discussed further below, will more than offset these planned enhancements for student-athletes.”
— The complete financial picture is unknown.
UCLA believes membership in the Big Ten will result in annual media rights revenue “above $60 million, potentially increasing to over $70 million per year in later years.”
However, there is no revenue model available for Pac-12 media rights — either without both Los Angeles schools or if the Bruins were to remain in the conference:
The UC Office of the President “is unable to provide a comparison of potential Pac-12 media deals because conference negotiations are still underway.”
The Pac-12 is closer to the end of its media rights negotiations than the beginning. Once UCLA’s status is resolved, the conference could move quickly to a conclusion.