University of California staffers proposed a policy shift Wednesday aimed at giving the Board of Regents and UC system president greater oversight of major campus athletic system decisions — such as UCLA’s planned exit from the Pac-12 Conference in favor of the Big Ten.
Meeting at UCLA, the Board of Regents grilled its staff attorney over existing board policies governing the delegation of decision-making authority to the UC president and individual campus chancellors.
The board also heard a proposed policy change designed to give the president more direct authority over future major athletic program decisions, such as “matters involving athletics affiliations and other transactions, including conference memberships.”
Athletic program decisions have traditionally been delegated to individual campus chancellors. But the announcement by UCLA that it would be joining USC in a move to the Big Ten Conference in 2024 caught the board off-guard. Last month, the board — backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who expressed dismay that he was never informed of the decision — requested a report on impacts of the move.
That report, reviewed by the board Wednesday, included the proposed policy change, which was met by an array of questions about existing board authority. The issue is expected to be considered again at the board’s meeting next month.
The proposed policy includes a set of criteria under which a major athletic program decision would have to be reviewed by the UC president, who would in turn be required to notify the chairman of the Board of Regents. That criteria would include decisions that “will have material adverse financial impact on other campuses in the UC system,” decisions that raise “a significant question of university policy” or “likely will create significant risk of reputational harm to any campus or to the university.”
“The proposed policy updates would obligate the president to notify the Chair of the Board of Regents and the Chair of the Standing Committee with jurisdiction over the matter, in advance of any decision, when matters falling within the above criteria are expected to come to the president for decision,” according to the staff report.
Newsom, who vocally pushed for a full report from UCLA on its rationale behind the move, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
The report presented by the UC staff estimated that USC’s departure from the Pac-12 alone would have a major financial impact on the other schools in the conference. The report estimated that USC accounts for roughly 30% of the Pac-12 Conference’s media-rights deal, so its decision to leave the conference would equate to a $10 million loss for the other schools in the conference.
The report did not break down the impact of UCLA’s departure from the conference.
UCLA and USC stand to see a major boost in revenue from media-rights deals in the Big Ten, which will become a coast-to-coast conference including some of the nation’s most prominent athletic programs.
In announcing the planned move, UCLA officials noted that the financial boost from the Big Ten will allow the university to maintain all of its athletic programs, some of which were believed to be in financial jeopardy absent a major influx of cash. The university also noted a major benefit for student-athletes, likely allowing them to obtain more lucrative “name, image and likeness” deals.
“Additionally, it means enhanced resources for all of our teams, from academic support to mental health and wellness,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Athletics Director Martin Jarmond said in a statement announcing the move in June.
“And although this move increases travel distances for teams, the resources offered by Big Ten membership may allow for more efficient transportation options. We would also explore scheduling accommodations with the Big Ten that best support our student-athletes’ academic pursuits.”
USC President Carol L. Folt, in a statement of her own, said, “With the Big Ten, we are joining a storied conference that shares our commitment to academic excellence and athletic competitiveness, and we are positioning USC and our student-athletes for long-term success and stability amidst the rapidly evolving sports media and collegiate athletics landscapes. We are delighted to begin this new chapter in 2024.”
The staff report presented to the Board of Regents on Wednesday noted that beyond the financial implications, UCLA’s conference switch would have a major impact on travel commitments for athletes in the Big Ten, at least in sports that rely on commercial flights for road trips — such as baseball, soccer, tennis, gymnastics, women’s volleyball and softball. In some cases, the travel commitment for those teams could increase by as much as 24 hours depending on the opponent.
The travel impact on the football and basketball programs would be far less, since those athletes generally travel on charter flights, according to the report.