UCLA's Big Ten entry is receiving political blowback like none other
UCLA is navigating a political minefield unlike any we’ve seen in previous Big Ten expansions. And in coming weeks, we’ll learn whether the school’s leadership had the foresight to know what they’re about to be dealing with.
As Pac-12 insider Jon Wilner reported this week, the Bruins have kicked over a hornet’s nest in California over their secretive decision to bolt for the B1G.
The University of California, Los Angeles is a member of the University of California system. Pac-12 rival Cal — properly known as the University of California, Berkeley — is the fellow flagship institution of that system. And the regents who run both schools were never informed of UCLA’s intent to leave its sister school behind until after the fact.
It goes without saying that this is problematic. Though UCLA’s athletic department has the power to do what it did, this seems like the type of decision your bosses should know about beforehand. Especially when it could leave one of those flagship campuses millions of dollars behind its peers.
As Jon Gold of our sister site Saturday Out West chronicles, this is not in the spirit of the historical relationship between the Los Angeles and Berkeley campuses.
The Bruins very name is a direct spinoff of Cal’s Golden Bears moniker.
In 1926, UCLA filed to join the then-PCC. An issue? UCLA was known as the Grizzlies, which was already taken by established Pacific Coast Conference member Montana. Cal, which used both Bears and Bruins, lent the latter name to its southern siblings. (By the way, has anyone at Montana looked into the conference charter lately to claw back in?)
Modern-day problems are a bit more serious than the matter of nicknames.
Legal wrangling looms
The UC Board of Regents meets next week to discuss the issue. As Wilner notes, litigation is a likely topic.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is among the power brokers displeased by the manner in which UCLA conducted its business. Newsom is the leader of the University of California system, albeit in a Queen Elizabeth II figurehead way.
“I have very strong opinions about this, if for no other reason as [being] a member of the regents,” Newsom said in an interview with Fox 11 Los Angeles. “We were never consulted. Never asked for an opinion. They didn’t even have the decency to provide a heads-up.
“Trust me when I say we aren’t going to be looking into this. We are already looking into this.”
"I read about it…"@CAgovernor is chair of the UC regents & says they were kept totally in the dark.
He's investigating why that happened.
— Elex Michaelson (@Elex_Michaelson) July 15, 2022
You certainly hope UCLA’s lawyers crossed the t’s and dotted the lower-case j’s before opening this can of worms. But it’s possible they left a few blind spots exposed in their zealousness to grab the Big Ten’s money.
UCLA’s move to the B1G has already created another unintended consequence.
It was tacked on as an amicus brief in a case arguing that college athletes are, in fact, employees of the schools they represent. The outcome of that lawsuit will have ramifications for all of college athletics.
As expected, UCLA/USC move to Big 10 is cited to argue college athletes are employees in amicus brief in federal court. "To pretend that this type of exhausting travel schedule over five short months is part-and-parcel of a student’s educational experience ignores reality." pic.twitter.com/a5e8oq3Zca
— Gabe Feldman (@SportsLawGuy) July 15, 2022
How UCLA is different than other B1G expansions
None of the other 5 schools to join the Big Ten since 1990 have seen anything close to the pushback UCLA is getting, and for good reason.
UCLA’s cohort in the current wave, USC, is a private school and thereby not accountable to state politics. (The Trojans are very much bringing the Bruins along for the ride. Hopefully Traveler has room for a giant foam bear behind Tommy Trojan.)
Every other “new” member of the Big Ten is the dominant flagship of its respective state.
Joe Paterno spent years seeking a conference home for Penn State, but all attempts to form an East Coast football conference floundered. When the Big 10 became 11, it was widely celebrated on all sides.
Any trepidation Nebraska had in leaving behind historical rivals was overridden by the joy of escaping Big 12 overlord Texas. Plus, there was some expectation that Missouri was the most likely fit as the Big Ten’s 12th member. Getting the invite over the Tigers was a victory.
Maryland’s fanbase wasn’t enthralled with leaving its ACC basketball rivalries behind. Most Terps fans would probably prefer playing Duke every year over what actually took place. But the move to the B1G was necessary for financial reasons. It’s estimated Maryland’s budget deficit would have ballooned from $5 million to $17 million a year if it stayed in the ACC.
One pays a heavy price to hire Randy Edsall. When someone throws you a life preserver, you don’t complain.
Rutgers, of course, has nothing to complain about. It’s the New Jersey version of Jed Clampett. The Scarlet Knights had a gusher in their backyard — New York City — without which they’d be in the American Athletic Conference.
UCLA’s situation is unlike any of the above. Knives are out. There will be blood. Or at least some money shed.
Odds are the program will end up paying a price unlike any other Big Ten newcomers. Exactly what that price will be remains to be determined.