Newsom says UCLA owes explanation about its decision to join Big Ten

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UCLA’s Royce Hall in the pre-pandemic era

With UCLA planning to move its athletic programs from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the campus must explain how the move will benefit its students and the University of California, Berkeley, a member of the Pac-12 conference.

“The first duty of every public university is to the people — especially students,” Newsom said in a statement. “UCLA must clearly explain to the public how this deal will improve the experience for all its student-athletes, will honor its century-old partnership with UC Berkeley, and will preserve the histories, rivalries, and traditions that enrich our communities.”

Newsom’s statement was released after the governor joined in a closed session of the UC’s board of regents in San Francisco. They met for about two hours, apparently to discuss UCLA’s move to the Big Ten. The governor’s position was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. As governor, Newsom is an ex-officio member of the board, which includes six other ex-officio members and 14 appointed members, who were each selected either by previous governors or by Newsom.

UCLA and the University of Southern California announced on June 30 that they plan to move their athletics programs from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten — moves that would be a seismic shift in the college athletics landscape. The two Los Angeles-based universities plan to join the conference in 2024.

Newsom initially voiced displeasure with the move last week, telling Fox’s Los Angeles affiliate that UC’s board of regents had not been consulted over UCLA’s decision to leave the Pac-12. Richard Leib, chair of the regents, so told the Los Angeles Times that the board was not consulted and that only a few members were notified just before the decision was announced.

It’s not clear what specifically Newsom and the board discussed during Wednesday’s two-hour closed session.

A UC spokesman declined to comment and referred EdSource to UCLA’s media relations staff. A UCLA spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

The move could have negative implications for Berkeley, which as a member of the Pac-12 could suffer multimillion-dollar losses, the Los Angeles Times reported. Without UCLA and USC, the conference and its members are likely to receive much less television revenue.

In its statement announcing its move to the Big Ten, UCLA said it would “make efforts to preserve our traditional regional rivalries,” though it did not specifically mention Berkeley.

Ben Chida, an adviser to Newsom on education issues, told the Times that Newsom’s concerns about UCLA’s decision to join the Big Ten is “about more than sports and more than money.”

“It’s about public trust. It’s about student-athlete mental health. And it’s about honoring the partnerships, histories and traditions that have lasted a century,” added Chida, who did not immediately return a request for comment from EdSource on Wednesday.

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