In a letter provided to the University of California Board of Regents ahead of Thursday’s closed-door session to discuss UCLA’s proposed move to the Big Ten Conference, Pac-12 Commissioner George Klyavkoff detailed the “significant concerns” he had with the move, including its effect on student-athlete mental health, increased travel and operating costs, and negative impact on both Cal’s revenue and the UC system’s climate goals.
Klivakov’s letter was provided in response to a request from the regents for the conference’s perspective on UCLA’s move, according to a source.
“Despite all explanations made after the fact, UCLA’s decision to join the Big Ten was clearly financially motivated after the UCLA athletic department managed to rack up more than $100 million in debt over the past three fiscal years,” Kliavkoff wrote.
He said the increased revenue UCLA would receive would be fully offset by the higher costs coming from the additional travel, the need for competitive salaries within the Big Ten and the cost of guaranteeing the game.
“UCLA currently spends approximately $8.1 million annually on travel for its teams to compete in the Pac-12 Conference,” Kliavkoff said. “UCLA will incur a 100% increase in team travel expenses if it flies commercial flights in the Big Ten ($8.1 million increase per year), a 160% increase if it charters half the time ($13.1 million per year) and a 290% increase if he charters every flight ($23 million increase per year).”
Kliavkoff did not cite how those numbers were calculated or indicate whether he had any real belief that UCLA would consider charter trips for teams other than football and basketball.
According to a source familiar with UCLA’s internal estimates, the school is operating with the expectation that it will spend about $6-10 million more per year on Big Ten travel against the Pac-12.
The move to the Big Ten, Kliavkoff speculated, would also cause UCLA to spend more on salaries to fall in line with conference norms. He estimated that UCLA would need to increase its athletic department payroll by about $15 million for the university to reach the Big Ten average.
“Any financial gains that UCLA will achieve by joining the Big Ten will ultimately go to airlines and charter companies, salaries for administrators and coaches and other recipients, rather than providing additional resources for student-athletes,” Kliavkoff said.
A UCLA spokesman declined to comment.
The university system’s regents have met several times about the move, including a meeting Thursday. They have not said whether they can or will reverse UCLA’s move, but several regents and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (an ex-officio board member) have questioned UCLA’s decision.
UC President Michael W. Drake told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday that UC officials have not deviated from established policy, which includes allowing individual campus chancellors to make athletics-related decisions. The regents are also concerned about the impact of UCLA’s move on UC Berkeley, which stands to lose more than $10 million in annual revenue because of UCLA’s move, according to an estimate obtained by the regents at a meeting last month.
Drake, who previously served as Ohio State’s president, said in an interview with the New York Times: “No decisions. I think everyone collects information. The situation is developing.”
Besides the financial impact to UCLA, which is believed to be the leading factor in the planned move, Kliavkoff said it would also hurt Cal, which is also part of the UC system. As media rights negotiations continue, Kliavkoff said it’s difficult to reveal the exact impact without divulging confidential information, but confirmed the Pac-12 is fielding offers with and without UCLA in the fold.
Aside from the financial component of the added travel, Kliavkoff said “published media research from the National Institutes of Health, studies conducted by the NCAA and discussions with our student-athlete leaders” show the move will have a negative impact on student-athletes ‘ mental health and take away from their academic pursuits. He added that it would also be a burden on family and alumni to face trips across the country to see UCLA teams play.
Finally, Kliavkoff said the added travel runs counter to the UC system’s climate goals and works against UCLA’s commitment to “climate neutrality” by 2025.