Governor Gavin Newsom continued to double down on his criticism towards UCLA leaving for the Big 10 athletic conference on Wednesday, with the Governor himself facing growing scrutiny for his role in helping fuel the move in the first place.
Both UCLA and USC announced that they would be leaving the PAC-12 athletic conference last month in favor of going to the Big 10, traditionally a league with Midwestern teams. However, both colleges also didn’t give much advance notice, catching the Pac-12 off guard and leaving them with only a few nationally competitive teams left. They would also be leaving before the Pac-12 renegotiates several contracts, likely costing them millions in revenue as they would need to continue after losing the entire Los Angeles media market.
While criticized by many, Governor Newsom took it a step further during the last weekend when he said that the state would be investigating the matter, a move which could put roadblocks in the way for UCLA leaving. While USC is a private school and is not controlled by the state, UCLA is a State University, which Newsom used against them saying that they had not consulted the UC Board of Regents before the decision.
“And there’s the impact more broadly, not just on the UC system, but on other universities, including Stanford and basically the Cal State system,” said Newsom. “I don’t have strong opinions on this for any reason other than as a member. The regents, we were never consulted, never asked for an opinion, and they didn’t even have the decency to give advance warning.”
“Trust me when I say this: we’re not going to investigate. We were investigating within minutes of reading about it in the newspaper.”
On Wednesday, during a meeting with the UC Board of Regents in San Francisco, Newsom continued to condemn UCLA, demanding that they give the Board an explanation how the conference move will help athletes on their team, as well as what it will do to traditional PAC-10 rivalries, with Newsom highlighting the UCLA-Cal football rivalry.
“The first duty of every public university is to the people — especially students,” said the Governor on Thursday. “UCLA must clearly explain to the public how this deal will improve the experience for all its student-athletes, will honor its century-old partnership with UC Berkeley, and will preserve the histories, rivalries, and traditions that enrich our communities.”
While nothing has been made official, some university officials are currently mulling over having UCLA paying UC Berkeley an exit fee due to potential lost money over a conference move.
“It’s about more than sports and more than money,” added Newsom education advisor Ben Chida. “It’s about public trust. It’s about student-athlete mental health. And it’s about honoring the partnerships, histories and traditions that have lasted a century.”
Newsom facing criticism over role in helping cause move in first place
However, Newsom has been facing growing criticism for taking a leading role in the conference change controversy. Since 2019, Newsom was a central figure in getting NCAA student athletes paid for their image and likeness being used, as well as allowing them to get endorsement deals and to hire agents before turning professional. Newsom was an outspoken supporter and ultimate signer of the Fair Pay to Play Act, was in favor of further legislation around it, and even made guest appearances with NBA star Lebron James praising the action.
“Signing the bill is going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation,” said Newsom in 2019. “And it’s going to change college sports for the better by having now the interests, finally, of the athletes, on par with the interests of the institutions. Now we’re rebalancing that power arrangement.”
The passage of the bill, as well as it spreading nationwide, soon had major effects. In addition to the funds schools would have to pay players, competition to get the best recruits skyrocketed. As many recruits wanted to play in the more competitive and visible leagues, such as the SEC and Big 10. Universities quickly scrambled to rectify this. Many universities, already facing tightening budgets due to the effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns and the rising costs of athletic programs, suddenly found themselves with a major new expense.
Needing to stay competitive to keep a positive cash flow, schools began switching conferences in favor of better media revenue shares in different conferences. For UCLA, in debt and close to cutting many sports, going to the Big 10 made the most sense.
“I inherited a deficit with UCLA athletics,” explained UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond. “So when you have a significant financial challenge, it’s difficult to just maintain, never mind to invest. This move not only preserves the programs we have now but also allows us to invest in them in levels that can lead to more competitive success.”
With Newsom being in part responsible, many called on for the Governor to stop his pursuit and instead apologize to both universities for putting them in this situation.
“I wouldn’t pin this all on the Governor,” noted Tom Ross, an academic researcher on athletics and politics, to the Globe on Thursday. “But he is an accessory to what happened. This is the new face of college athletics for sure, and it had been building this way for years. But Newsom’s support and signing of the athlete pay bill, which spread across the U.S. like wildfire because no school wanted to be left behind at a disadvantage, was a factor here. For sure. He needs to come to terms with that, but he isn’t even mentioning his role in creating the current situation we have now.”
“For a Governor who has been so forward thinking by putting goals up for state programs years, even decades into to the future, his action there was extremely short-sighted.”
More possible actions against UCLA for switching conferences are expected to be unveiled in the near future.