UC campuses face rollback in authority after UCLA move to Big Ten

University of California regents aren’t done addressing the fallout over UCLA’s move to the Big Ten that set off a national furor and irked the powerful UC Board of Regents.

The regents, meeting in San Diego Thursday, briefly discussed a proposal to bar the university president from delegating such authority if one UC campus’ proposed athletics transaction would cause a sister campus a “material adverse financial impact” — defined as 10% or greater of the operating revenue of the athletic department in question. The ban on delegating authority to campuses would also apply if a proposed deal would raise a “significant question” of university policy or create a “significant risk of reputational harm” to UC.

Board Chair Richard Leib emphasized the proposal is aimed at future campus actions. But it was triggered by widespread concerns among regents about the financial impact UCLA’s decision to leave the Pac-12 in 2024 could have on UC Berkeley.

The Westwood campus will receive a full share of the new Big Ten media rights package that’s valued at more than $1 billion per season and is expected to be multiple times that of a Pac-12 deal under negotiation. But UC Berkeley is bracing for a multimillion-dollar loss in media revenue under a new TV contract with a Pac-12 conference diminished by the departure of UCLA and USC.

The board did not take action Thursday, deciding to refer the matter to the governance committee to hash out at a future meeting. Nor did regents answer the big question: Whether they would try to cancel the controversial deal. But Leib earlier said he hoped the matter could be wrapped up in the next few months.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has demanded that UCLA explain how its Pac-12 exit for the Big Ten will benefit all of its athletes and honor its relationship with UC Berkeley. Several regents have also questioned how the move would effect the health, welfare and academic performance of athletes spending more time on the road traveling to Big Ten games.

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff expressed similar concerns this week, saying the UC regents should consider using their authority to block the school’s move to the Big Ten because of several factors, including the mental and physical toll of increased travel demands on students playing in a coast-to-coast conference.

Kliavkoff also said UCLA would lose money as a member of the Big Ten without offering any specifics to back his claim.

“We think the incremental money they are going to receive from the Big Ten’s media rights deal will be more than 100% offset by additional expenses,” Kliavkoff told “Canzano and Wilner: The Podcast.” “So you end up taking the money you earned and it goes to airline and charter companies and coaches and administrators. It doesn’t go to supporting the student-athletes. And obviously, there’s the negative impact on Cal that I’m sure the regents will take into account when they are considering this.”

George Blumenthal, who served as UC Santa Cruz chancellor for 13 years until 2019, said UCLA clearly had the authority to make the deal under the rules at the time and regents delving into travel schedules of athletes appeared to be “micromanagement to the extreme.” Such issues are best left for campuses to handle, he said.

But he said it was a “legitimate issue” for regents to try to mitigate the harm to one UC campus by the actions of another.

“UC is one system and while we want to give as much authority as possible to individual campuses, this is a prime example where a decision of one campus can adversely affect another campus,” said Blumenthal, who now heads the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley.

After UCLA’s departure alongside USC was announced in late June, Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond said the move would help secure the future of a department riddled with debt while avoiding the possibility of cutting Olympic sports teams. UCLA will receive a full share of the new Big Ten media rights package that’s valued at more than $1 billion per season and is expected to be multiple times that of a Pac-12 deal that’s currently being negotiated in the wake of losing two anchors in the coveted Los Angeles market.

Some of UCLA’s new revenue could be diverted to Cal if the UC regents force UCLA to subsidize its sister school’s athletic department as a penalty for leaving the Golden Bears in a diminished Pac-12. At the UC regents meeting last month on the UCLA campus, it was estimated that the departures of the two Los Angeles schools would cost the Pac-12 roughly $13 million in lost media rights revenue annually.

Jarmond and UCLA chancellor Gene Block said at the time their school announced its conference switch that playing in the Big Ten would come with more than financial benefits, including an expanded recruiting base and a fortified brand offering athletes additional name, image and likeness opportunities amid a rapidly changing sports landscape.

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