In a letter provided to the UC 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 this move, including student-athlete mental health, increased travel and operating costs, and negative impacts 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.
From there, he pointed out that the increased revenue UCLA would receive would be fully offset by the increased costs coming from increased travel, the need for competitive salaries within the Big Ten and the cost of the game guarantee.
“UCLA currently spends approximately 8.1 million per year on travel for its teams to compete in the Pac-12 Conference,” Kliavkoff said. “UCLA would incur a 100 percent increase in team travel expenses if it flew commercial flights in the Big Ten ($8.1 million increase per year), a 160 percent increase if it chartered half the time ($13.1 million per year) and 290% percent increase if chartering 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 of increased travel costs, the school is operating with the expectation that it will spend roughly $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 approximately $15 million in order for UCLA 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.
In an interview with the New York Times, University of California President Michael W. Drake, who previously served as Ohio State’s president, said, “No decisions. I think everyone gathers information. The situation is developing.”
Besides the financial impact for UCLA, which is believed to be the main driving factor behind UCLA’s move to the Big Ten, Kliavkoff said it would also hurt Cal, which, like UCLA, is also controlled by the UCLA system. As media rights negotiations continue, Kliavkoff said it’s difficult to reveal the exact impact without divulging confidential information, but confirmed the conference is collecting offers with and without UCLA in the part.
Beyond 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,” will have a negative impact on the mental health of student-athletes and take away from their academic pursuits. He added that it would also be a burden on family and alumni to face cross-country trips to see UCLA teams play.
Finally, Kliavkoff said the added travel is inconsistent with the UC system’s climate goals and works against UCLA’s commitment to “climate neutrality” by 2025.