Calif. governor asks UCLA to explain Pac-12 exit

In the wake of UCLA’s departure to the Big Ten Conference alongside USC, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that he demands an explanation, on behalf of the public, for just how the move will be beneficial for not just student athletes, but the history of their partnership with UC Berkeley.

“The first duty of every public university is to the people – especially students,” Newsom said in a statement to the LA Times at Wednesday’s meeting of the UC Board of Regents in San Francisco. “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.”

UCLA’s and USC’s announcement last month that they would move to the Big Ten in 2024 was a shock to the college football world as it strengthened one conference and left the Pac-12 and its members in a vulnerable position. Since, the Pac-12 has announced it’s willing to expand and will begin negotiations for a new media rights agreement. While USC is a private institution, UCLA’s status as a public school raised eyebrows regarding the move as a school under the University of California system.

“I read about it. Is it a good idea? Did we have a chance to discuss the merits (of the decision)?” Newsom told Fox 11 Los Angeles last week. “I’m not aware anyone did. So it was done in isolation. It was done without regental oversight or support. It was done without any consideration to my knowledge.”

The University of California said decisions related to athletics are executed at the campus level.

“UCLA leadership informed [University of California] President [Dr. Michael] Drake that discussions between UCLA and the Big Ten were occurring but he was not involved at all in those discussions or in any negotiations,” a spokesperson for the University of California Office of the President told ESPN in an email. “… decisions related to athletics are formulated and executed at the campus level. There is no requirement for a decision from the University of California Board of Regents or the Office of the President.”

The financial benefits that come with a move to the Big Ten are evident — chief among them is what is expected to be an exorbitant TV rights deal, which would help UCLA overcome what has been reported to be a three-year debt of over $100 million. It would also allow UCLA to keep Olympic sports.

“I inherited a deficit with UCLA athletics,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond told ESPN following the move to the Pac-12. “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.”

In statements following the announcement of the move, Jarmond and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block also cited more exposure and thus, more name, image and likeness opportunities for UCLA athletes, as one of the various reasons why the program made a move to the Big Ten.

Yet despite UCLA’s ability to make this move on their own, Newsom appears to believe that the ripple effect could be as damaging for UC Berkeley, which will inevitably receive less money as the Pac-12’s media deal diminishes in value, as it will be beneficial for UCLA.

According to the Times, an idea that has been floated includes the regents imposing an exit fee that UCLA would have to pay to UC Berkeley or, in another case, having UCLA share the ensuing Big Ten TV revenue windfall with Berkeley.

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