In a letter given to the University of California Board of Regents ahead of a closed-door meeting Thursday to discuss UCLA’s proposed move to the Big Ten conference, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff outlined “significant concerns” he had about with the move, including the impact on the mental health of student-athletes, increased transportation and operating costs, and negative impacts on both Cal’s revenue and the UC system’s climate goals.
Klivakoff’s letter was issued in response to a request by the regents for the conference’s perspective on UCLA’s move, according to a source.
“Despite all the hindsight explanations, 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,” Kliavkoff wrote .
He said the increased revenue UCLA will receive will be fully offset by the higher costs that come from additional travel, the need to compete with Big Ten salaries and game guarantee expenses.
“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 its team travel costs if it flies commercials in the Big Ten ($8.1 million per year increase), a 160% increase if it charters half the time ($13.1 million per year), and 290 % increase if he charters every flight ($23 million increase per year).”
Kliavkoff did not say how those figures were calculated or indicate whether there was any real 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 $6-10 million more annually on Big Ten travel versus the Pac-12.
The move to the Big Ten, Kliavkoff speculated, would also lead to UCLA spending more salary to align with the conference’s standards. He estimated that UCLA would need to increase athletic department salaries by about $15 million to bring the university up to the Big Ten average.
“Any financial benefits UCLA achieves by joining the Big Ten will end up going to airlines and charter companies, administrators’ and coaches’ salaries and other recipients rather than providing additional resources for student-athletes,” Kliavkoff said.
A UCLA spokesman declined to comment.
UC President Michael V. Drake, who was previously president at Ohio State, told The New York Times, “There are no decisions. I think everyone is gathering information. It’s an evolving situation.”
Beyond the financial impact for UCLA, which is widely understood to be the driving factor in its planned move, Kliavkoff said it would also hurt Cal, which is also part of the UC system. With media rights negotiations ongoing, Kliavkoff said it was difficult to reveal the exact impact without divulging confidential information, but confirmed the Pac-12 is seeking offers with and without UCLA.
Beyond the financial component of the additional travel, Kliavkoff said “published media research from the National Institutes of Health, studies conducted by the NCAA and discussions with our own student-athlete leaders” show the move will have a negative impact on student-athletes mental health and move away from their academic pursuits. He added that it would also be a burden on family and alumni to face trips out of the country to see UCLA teams play.
Finally, Kliavkoff said the additional travel runs counter to the UC system’s climate goals and works against UCLA’s commitment to “climate neutrality” by 2025.