The last hurdle before UCLA and the Pac-12 can go their separate ways is turning into a bit of a mountain hike. UCLA officials will meet with University of California Regents in a Thursday meeting that is expected to decide the school's ability to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten.
UC Regents, as well as California Gov. Gavin Newsom, were upset about not being informed prior to UCLA announcing its move to the Big Ten (alongside USC) on June 30. Since then, there has been continuing rancor regarding both schools leaving for the Big Ten -- from fans, politicians and some of the regents.
Unlike USC, a private institution, UCLA public and part of the UC system with California considered its sister school. Those UC Regents have increasingly asserted authority to block the move. This is their fourth meeting on the subject since that June 30 decision.
"The regents have the power to overturn UCLA's decision," California Sen. Nancy Skinner told CBS Sports. Skinner is not a regent. "They're the ones who created the rule that gave UCLA the autonomy [to leave]. They can take that autonomy back if they choose. I don't know if they'll do that."
UCLA officials are convinced their move to the Big Ten will ultimately be approved. However, they feel an urgency to resolve the issue as the early signing period in football begins Dec. 21. There are UCLA prospects being recruited in all sports lured by the prospect of playing in the Big Ten. USC and UCLA are scheduled to join the league in 2024.
"When [the move is] driven by revenue, by the university … they're blinded by the money," Skinner said. "They're driven by the money versus the students' needs."
Skinner said the results of the regents' meeting will inform her on next steps. The powerful senator essentially kicked off the NIL movement when she introduced California Senate Bill 206 (Fair Pay to Play Act) in 2019.
The New York Times first reported Skinner being concerned by travel pressures on UCLA athletes bumping against the NCAA's 20-hour work week. That rule limits the amount of time an athletic can spend on their sport each week. Travel time to and from away competition does not count. Projections are that some USC and UCLA athletes will be making five-hour one-way flights across the country to play at Big Ten schools such as Rutgers and Maryland.
As early as July, Big Ten football advisor Barry Alvarez had informally suggested the notion of "jamborees" where minor sports would stay for a number of days back East playing multiple games.
"It's not a real rule if you have your students put in 30 hours a week, or higher, in their sport," Skinner said. "Not every student has a full academic scholarship. Let's say they want to have a part-time job, too. When is it they fit in their academics?"
Ironically, the Pac-12 in 2015 published anthat concluded its athletes spent 50 hours a week on their sport and are "too exhausted to study effectively."
Even though it is a far-flung league, the Pac-12 has the advantage of regional travel partners. During basketball season, Pac-12 men's and women's teams go through Los Angeles playing USC and UCLA with similar scheduling against Arizona and Arizona State, Cal and Stanford as well as Washington and Washington State.
In terms of the UC system, Cal is most impacted in this discussion as a fellow Pac-12 member. Some have suggested the regents would be appeased if UCLA merely agrees to pay Cal a portion of its Big Ten windfall to make up for lost conference revenue.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has asserted UCLA will lose money by moving to the Big Ten. That despite all projections saying the school's media rights revenue will more than double in the Big Ten comparatively.
One solution could be Kliavkoff orchestrating a move to give UCLA a larger share if it chooses to in the Pac-12. Conference schools currently split media rights revenue equally. The problem: His conference does not have a media rights deal in place to even do that math on an uneven split. CBS Sports reported last week the league is expected to come to an agreement with ESPN and a streaming service, such as Amazon, by the beginning of 2023.
There is likely no amount of money that could influence UCLA to stay in the Pac-12 at this point. The Big Ten payout from the new media rights deal signed in August is expected to be approximately $75 million annually. Pac-12 teams made $34.3 million per school annually in fiscal 2020.