Winners and Losers of UCLA's B1G Move
Let's break down some winners and losers here.
I’m a writer on the internet, and by law I am required to write occasional winners and losers articles, so here’s one for the latest news.
Here are some basic numbers from 2021:
Big Ten: $768.9 million, $54.3 million per school (Maryland and Rutgers do not make full shares still)
Pac-12: $533.8 million, $33.6 million per school
The Pac-12 was already $20+ million behind the Big Ten, and that was before UCLA and Southern Cal announced their move. Most valuations of the upcoming Big Ten media rights deal following the announcement believe the conference will easily reach over $100 million per school.
And again, this image above were what the numbers looked like BEFORE the move.
For UCLA, this is a clear winner from a dollar amount. They’re increasing their media rights intake by a substantial amount, which almost by itself will help solve the debt problems facing the athletic department. I’ll talk about this more in a second, so hold tight.
But from a valuation standpoint, UCLA is also the biggest winner here because, if we are being honest, football is driving this move, and the UCLA football brand is not exactly the strongest thing in the world. Sure, they are a historically-strong program, but it has also been over twenty years since the Bruins were last in a Rose Bowl game, and the biggest bowl game they’ve been in this millennium was the 2015 Alamo Bowl. UCLA is not getting this golden ticket because of the strength of its football brand, but because of its location and the fact that Southern Cal needed a willing accomplice. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than be good, but no matter how it happened, UCLA finds itself in the club rather than outside it.
Winner: UCLA’s Olympic Sports
Back to that money thing, Ben Bolch reported on Tuesday that UCLA’s debt was looking to get to the point where they were in serious consideration to cut various Olympic sports in an attempt to right the ship. As Martin Jarmond stated while talking to Bolch, the move to the Big Ten will be a major boon that will help fix the debt issues without needing to cut sports.
Now, I have no doubt that Jarmond is giving some PR fluff about considering the Olympic sports when it comes to the move, but I also don’t think he is lying about the department having to consider cutting sports. Budget concerns have existed all throughout the conference - just last year Stanford came close to cutting 11 sports before reversing course at the last minute - and considering the massive debt issues the school is facing, it is not shocking that UCLA considered making such a move. I have no doubts that some of the name-brand programs, like gymnastics and softball, were likely going to be safe, but other sports might have not been as lucky.
When I say that UCLA’s Olympic sports are winners here, it is because their futures are now secure. Yes, it is a bit aspirational to believe that the increased media money will be funneled into the Olympic sports instead of football and men’s basketball, but at the very least these programs will have ample funding going forward. And, while the Big Ten would represent a step down in competition level from the Pac-12 in many sports, I don’t think it would be a big deal as others make it out to be. After all, Gonzaga routinely gets a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament despite playing in a weak conference; there’s no reason UCLA should be punished for a similar move.
There are still a host of concerns about how the move will affect student-athletes (reports are that one of the conditions of admission is that the Big Ten will work with UCLA and Southern Cal in regards to scheduling, but we have no idea what that means at the moment) but overall, this has to be seen as a positive.
Loser: Dan Guerrero
If you are looking for villains to blame for this move, Larry Scott exists as the clear #1. But if you are a UCLA fan upset at the move, it is hard not to point a lot of the blame at former athletic director Dan Guerrero.
I know we have always been hard on the former AD, but Guerrero’s actions set the stage for this move on two fronts. For one, he was one of the biggest supporters of former Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, even as Scott’s policies and leadership continually set the conference back relative to its peers. On the flip side, the debt issues that currently plague the athletic department and essentially forced them to, at the very least, consider this move all began under his watch.
What I will say is it is hard to see this move taking place were he still in charge, but that’s mostly because it is hard to see Guerrero coming to the decision to do anything different unless he was forced to do so. Guerrero’s failures are numerous, and this is just one more for the pile.
Loser: The Myth of Colleges as Anything Other Than Capitalist Bastions
One of the common negatives people pointed to in the comments of the last few articles I wrote lamented the fact that UCLA is abandoning long-time regional rivalries in search of a bigger payday. I sympathize with this viewpoint, but it speaks to the larger point that should be made regarding this move.
Ramzy Nasrallah over at Eleven Warriors wrote an excellent article discussing the latest round of realignment and how it has hopefully put a bullet in the belief that many people had regarding colleges as bastions of academics and amateurism. As Ramzy (and many others like our former colleagues from SB Nation Spencer Hall, Richard Johnson, Jason Kirk, and Alex Kirshner in their book Sinful Seven) points out, the history of college athletics is the history of college administrators doing whatever they could to secure as big a bag as possible.
Consider that this is not UCLA’s first attempt at joining a cross-country conference: back in 1959 when the Pacific Coast Conference dissolved following a series of pay-for-play scandals (UCLA was one of the schools implicated), the Bruins looked to create a new conference that spanned the country. Dubbed the “Airplane Conference”, it would feature the four California schools and Washington, but would also feature Notre Dame, Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse, and the service academies. The only thing that prevented the formation of this conference was the Pentagon stepping in and refusing to allow the service academies to join, but it’s the thought that counts.
I think about the general outcry that NIL has caused amongst universities as another bit of evidence. The universities are not upset that athletes are getting paid - they’re upset that they’re not getting their cut as they had before. Many universities believe a rise in NIL payments will coincide with a decrease in donations to the school, which means less money for the people at the top. We can’t have that, now, can we?
This passage from Nasrallah’s article stands out:
If you're not compensated through this arrangement, you're not a shareholder. If you simply wear the colors and cheer for a team (they probably extract money from you) you're merely a stakeholder - which means your cries about tradition and purity are not only misguided and incorrect, they're not relevant.
They don't care about you. They never have. When it feels like they do, it’s clever marketing. Shareholder primacy means never having to apologize to anyone else for anything, ever.
That’s where I was when this realignment was announced, and that’s where I’m still at today. UCLA will develop new rivalries in the various sports they play; in fact, I imagine Michigan will fill that role in many sports thanks to their general improvements in various Olympic sports. It will feel different, but this decision was not made to make you feel good. It was made to solidify the futures of the athletic departments for both LA schools, and thus made to keep more money in the pockets of the people at the top. That’s all it has ever been about.
Winner: Notre Dame
Let’s look at some individual dominoes still to fall, and if you’re talking about who the biggest non-LA winner is in this latest round of realignment, it has to be the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame is by far the biggest remaining prize out there, with the Big Ten not exactly being subtle about how much they want the Irish to join them. The ACC similarly would like the Irish to be more than friends and consummate their marriage by becoming full members.
For the Big Ten, Notre Dame is the only remaining school that could increase its future valuation. The Irish are a national brand that fits the cultural, academic, and athletic values that the conference possesses. They have a host of rivalries already in the conference, including Michigan, Purdue, and now Southern Cal. It makes a host of sense for the Irish to join, and if the Irish do eventually join one of the two biggest conferences, the Big Ten feels like the safe bet.
But the ACC will put up a fight, especially because Notre Dame represents the best chance the conference has to survive. Bringing in Notre Dame as a full-fledged member would increase their valuation enough to at least keep other major programs like Clemson and Florida State competitive with Big Ten and SEC programs. The ACC would be able to survive, and Notre Dame would have a lot more power in that conference thanks to their role as savior.
None of this even includes the fact that Notre Dame would likely still try to see if independence is still on the table. The Irish have been able to sit out the consolidation of college football in part due to its ability to secure a path to a national championship in both the BCS and College Football Playoffs, and if Notre Dame can get promises that would allow it to do so in whatever new iteration of the playoffs is created in a few years, independence may be an appealing path forward.
The Irish have options. They may be the only group that still does.
Winner: The Big 12
A year ago, we were discussing the ramifications of Texas and Oklahoma choosing to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, and the general outlook was that the Big 12 was on the path to losing its Power Five status. Since then, the Big 12 made the smart move to expand and grab three great AAC programs in Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF along with independent BYU, which gave them some stability. Now, in the wake of UCLA and Southern Cal’s impending move to the Big Ten, reports are that the Big 12 is in contact with six Pac-12 schools regarding bringing them into the fold. Those schools are:
Those first four schools have been a popular point of discussion ever since the realignment news broke June 30, and it would make sense from a location standpoint. Oregon and Washington are an interesting wrinkle and reflect the fact that the two Northwest schools are not high on the Big Ten’s priority list at this point. Adam Rittenberg put out a report on Twitter that said the six Pac-12 schools, especially Oregon and Washington, see the Pac-12 as the best option at this point, especially with the difference in future media rights deals between the Big 12 and Pac-12 being negligible. Still, the fact that the Big 12 is even in this position speaks to how smart they have been since Oklahoma and Texas announced their departure, and while they may not be one of the Big Two at this point, they are at least set up to thrive going forward.
Loser: UC Berkeley
There are three big losers in the Pac-12, and while Washington State and Oregon State are in unenviable positions, it’s really UC Berkeley that has been in the saddest spot. Look at that list in the above point: it does not include either Bay Area school despite the fact that they represent the largest media slice remaining in the conference. Stanford is not looking too hot, but at least they’ve been named as a possible Big Ten school should Notre Dame join the conference, and there have been constant rumors in recent years of the school looking to potentially deemphasize athletics going forward.
UC Berkeley, however, has made no such allusions to doing the same thing, but they’re staring down the barrel of joining the Mountain West if the Pac-12 does dissolve. They’ve had to suffer the indignity of learning that UCLA has well and truly passed them by, getting tacit approval from the UC Regents to move conferences without bringing the Golden Bears with them. They’ve had to sit by and twiddle their thumbs while the rest of the Pac-12 considers plans that leave them in the dust. Hell, at least Washington State and Oregon State have state legislators willing to write bills trying to tie those schools to their in-state counterparts - no such will exists in California. Reading UC Berkeley Twitter should be reserved for masochists only at this point.
Loser: Me Having to Police the Comments
Folks, let’s try not to be awful in the comments for this one. Treat each other with some respect going forward, all right?