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Gavin Newsom unhappy with UCLA Big Ten move leaving Cal in lurch, investigation coming
It's unclear exactly what legal recourse he has, but it's on his mind.
The best news for Cal fans on college realignment this last week isn’t coming from athletic director Jim Knowlton or chancellor Carol Christ, but from the head of state in California.
Governor Gavin Newsom (and the Chair of the UC Board of Regents) weighed in on the huge decision UCLA made to leave the Big Ten. And it’s safe to say he’s not happy with the cloak-and-dagger approach the Bruins took to depart the conference.
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“No big deal. I’m the governor of the state of California. But maybe a bigger thing is that I’m the Chair of the UC Board of Regents. I read about it. Is it a good idea? Opportunity to discuss the merits of the decision? I am not aware that anyone has done this. So it was made isolated. It was made without the supervision or support of the regents. It was made without regard to my knowledge.”
Newsom seems particularly frustrated by the lack of transparency by the LA schools, and even more so by their impact on the sister Pac-12 schools in the Bay Area.
“And there’s the impact more broadly, not just on the UC system, but on other universities, including Stanford and basically the Cal State system. I don’t have strong opinions on this for any reason other than as a member. The regents, we were never consulted, never asked for an opinion, and they didn’t even have the decency to give advance warning.”
So investigations are coming.
“Trust me when I say this: we’re not going to investigate. We were investigating within minutes of reading about it in the newspaper.”
Now, the multi-million dollar question—does Newsom have any power in this?
Other experts seem to think that it’s unlikely that this move can actually be blocked—unlike the community colleges and CSUs, the UCs enjoy significant autonomy from the state in terms of their overall decision-making. While UCLA can likely be publicly scolded for their decision, there isn’t any state laws they’ve broken for deciding to branch off and depart.
It is also a generally financially prudent decision. For all the logistical headaches this conference move entails, UCLA will likely double their revenue in the Big Ten, wiping out $102 million in athletic debt in short order It’ll be hard to come up with an economic reason to block this move.
While plenty of state government officials sit on the board of the regents, it is generally a secondary function. From Matt Brown of Extra Points:
Seven UC system regents are ex officio members, which include not just folks like the president and vice-president of the UC Alumni Associations, but also the California Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the Assembly.
"In reality," Dr. Smith told me, "normally the governor doesn’t even attend their meetings."
18 of the other regents are appointed by the California Governor for 12 year terms. Dr. Hogen-Esch told me that while those individuals aren't directly controlled by Newsom, "the Governor could always call one of them up to let them know that he felt strongly about a certain issue, and learn on them in a way that all politicians do." The current Board of Regents chair and vice chair, for what it's worth, were appointed by previous California Governor Jerry Brown, not Newsom.
With a Regents meeting upcoming, it’s unclear exactly what course of action he or anyone else on the Board plans to take. But it’s safe to say that restricting UCLA doesn’t really serve anyone’s interest.
Still, the downstream impacts on the UC system can’t be understated. If UCLA was just making money, this would be a simple move that wouldn’t require much deliberation.
But UCLA’s move clearly will impact Cal and their athletic debts, particularly if they end up relegated to a second-tier conference. And Cal’s debts would eventually need to be paid off by the state. Absolutely no one wants to shoulder that load. That’s why this is a complex political matter.
What would be in the best interest for the state of California to make the same financial case for UC Berkeley that UCLA used to justify their Big Ten move. The California Golden Bears need to find a way into the Big Ten in the next round of conference realignment. It’s the clear logical solve that provides the best political and financial outcomes for all powerful stakeholders.
I’m not certain as to the next political move here, but if Cal is to keep its head above water, the governor needs to put the proper pressure on the right people to get the Bears moving in the same direction upward.
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