The University of California Board of Regents voted 11-5 on Wednesday to allow UCLA to move to the Big Ten athletic conference, causing huge changes ahead in both California and across the college athletics landscape.
The switch dates back to June 30th of this year, when both UCLA and USC announced that they would be leaving the Pac-12 for the Big 10, a move that would take them from playing other West Coast teams such as Washington and Oregon to playing primarily more Midwestern teams such as Ohio State, Illinois, and Michigan. The move announcement was criticized by many in and out of the NCAA, largely due to the hectic travel schedules teams would have to play jumping two or three time zones East for many games, but also because of how the moves cut off a huge source of revenue for the Pac-12, essentially removing two of the most popular teams and the conference being cut out of the LA market.
For UCLA and USC, the move was similar to how Texas and Oklahoma would be moving to the more prestigious SEC conference in 2023, as not only the quality of teams played would increase, but revenues would spike as well. Estimates showed that both UCLA and USC could be earning as much as $100 million each per season following the switch, with first year revenues after the switch in 2024 being between $65 million to $75 million for being in the Big 10. By comparison, staying in the Pac-12 would have been only half that.
Despite prominent lawmakers coming out in opposition and doing what they could to stop the move, including Governor Gavin Newsom, who had inadvertently caused these shifts to happen by signing a bill a few years prior allowing student athletes to begin earning money and jump-starting the need for colleges to get more revenue to pay them, negotiations continued throughout the summer and fall. USC easily approved the move, as they are a private institution and don’t need to go through the hoops required for state-funded universities. But the move by UCLA was much more muddled due to not only being a state school, but also because of rivalries with within California, such as with Cal/UC Berkeley and because of what taking away the LA market and large schools would do for Californian universities in the Pac-12.
The matter was finally settled on Wednesday. At a meeting on the UCLA campus, which was delayed for due to strikers from the ongoing UC strike disrupting the meeting and having to be taken away by police, the Board of Regents voted that numerous payments would be needed for the move to work, Specifically, UCLA will now have to pay a “Berkeley tax” of between $2 million and $10 million a year to Cal each year to make up for the lost revenue they would have gotten if they had otherwise stayed.
UCLA will also have to pay significantly more to operate athletics. The University will now be required to spend as much as $12.2 million more a year on additional mental health, nutritional and academic support for athletes, higher travel costs through charter flight to play schools out East, and other new associated costs. The new total will cost nearly $2 million more a year than a Pac-10 play would have cost.
Regents vote 11-5 in favor of move
However, the higher revenues brought in by a conference switch ultimately convinced the regents, who voted 11-5 to approve.
“In the end, we’re a system, not an individual campus,” said Board of Regents Chairman Richard Leib on Wednesday. “We’ve never had a situation where a decision by one campus had this kind of impact on another campus within our system. Within the UCLA community, it’s almost like a civil war. People on the same side are fighting with each other. I know booster groups who are on both sides of the issue.”
“Money has a lot to do with it. Some big boosters say UCLA 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. Anybody can sue about anything. My feeling is we aren’t really being guided by that. We’re being guided by what’s the right thing to do.”
Big 10 conference Commissioner Kevin Warren held a more ecstatic view of the conference switch on Wednesday, noting in a statement, “The Big Ten Conference is grateful to the University of California Board of Regents for respecting the decision of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to join our conference in 2024. The landscape of collegiate athletics is evolving, and the Big Ten Conference is in a position of stability and strength with unmatched opportunities, exposure and resources for our member institutions and student-athletes. With the collective goals to prioritize the health and well-being of our student-athletes and forward our academic and athletic mission under the umbrella of higher education, we will continue our methodical integration process of UCLA and USC into the Big Ten Conference.”
However, experts noted that none of this would have likely happened if not for California in the first place.
“It’s unfair to pin all of this on one person or state, but California kind of deserves some of the blame here, if not most,” Tom Ross, an academic researcher on athletics and politics, to the Globe on Thursday. “California passed that Fair Pay to Play law a few years ago, which sent a ripple effect of all colleges doing the same because of the advantage that had to recruiting players. But that brought huge problems with it, because now schools were out tens of millions to pay the athletes for the use of their likeness and whatnot. And that led a lot of these schools to go to more lucrative conferences.
“There were other factors for sure. Playing more competitive teams was one, to get higher rankings. Another was attracting the best players and coaches. Prestige too. But all roads lead back to California doing that.”
UCLA and USC are expected to change conferences in 2024.
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