In a letter provided to the University of California Board of Regents ahead of a closed-door session on Thursday to discuss UCLA’s proposal for the Big Ten conference, Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff detailed “significant concerns” that he had with change, including its effect on student-athlete mental health, increased operating and travel costs, and negative impacts on Cal’s revenue and the UC system’s climate goals.
Klivakoff’s letter was provided in response to a request from the regents for the conference’s perspective on moving UCLA, according to a source.
“Despite all the explanations made after the fact, UCLA’s decision to join the Big Ten was clearly financially motivated after UCLA’s athletic department managed to accumulate more than $100 million in debt over the past three fiscal years,” he wrote. Kliavkoff.
He said the increased revenue UCLA will receive would be completely offset by higher costs from additional travel, the need for competitive salaries within the Big Ten, and game warranty expenses.
“UCLA currently spends approximately $8.1 million a year on travel for its teams to compete in the Pac-12 conference,” said Kliavkoff. “UCLA will incur a 100% increase in staff travel costs if it flies commercially 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 you charter all flights (increase of $23 million per year).”
Kliavkoff did not cite how those numbers were calculated or indicate whether there was genuine belief that UCLA would consider charter travel for teams other than football and basketball.
According to a source familiar with UCLA’s internal estimates, the school is working with the expectation that it will spend about $6 to 10 million more a year on travel in the Big Ten against the Pac-12.
The move to the Big Ten, Kliavkoff speculated, would also lead to UCLA spending more on salaries to meet conference norms. He estimated that UCLA would need to increase athletic department salaries by about $15 million for the university to reach the top ten average.
“Any financial gain UCLA achieves by joining the Big Ten will end up going to airlines and charter, administrator and coach salaries and other recipients, rather than providing additional resources for student-athletes,” Kliavkoff said.
A UCLA spokesperson declined to comment.
UC President Michael V. Drake, formerly president of Ohio State, said in an interview with the New York Times: “No decisions. I think everybody is gathering information. It’s an evolving situation.”
In addition to the financial impact to UCLA, which is widely understood to be the driving factor in its planned move, Kliavkoff said it will also hurt Cal, who is also part of the UC system. With media rights negotiations underway, Kliavkoff said it was difficult to disclose the exact impact without revealing confidential information, but confirmed that Pac-12 is soliciting offers with and without UCLA.
In addition to the financial component of the added travel, Kliavkoff said that “media research published by the National Institutes of Health, studies conducted by the NCAA, and discussions with our own student-athlete leaders” show that the change will have a negative impact on student-athletes. ‘ mental health and take away from your academic pursuits. He added that it would also be a burden for the family and alumni to face traveling across the country to see UCLA teams play.
Ultimately, Kliavkoff said the additional travel runs counter to the UC system’s climate goals and goes against UCLA’s commitment to “climate neutrality” by 2025.