Socialism is a transformational system of government when the environment being governed is consumed with abject poverty. Uplifting the majority into the middle-class with uniform quality of healthcare, education, and social security subsidized by the ultra-privileged few that are eager to scale their impact, is a win-win society. Yet, socialism breaks down when enough of those middle-class entrants believe, through their accomplishments, talents, and access, that they can do even better for themselves. The greater meritocratic opportunity exists for the middle class, the greater a socialist construct begins to disintegrate. Ultimately, the more realistic scenarios get for individuals to soar past the middle class and further improve their socioeconomic standing, the more socialism feels like an annoying crutch holding them back from actualizing their dreams.
I never thought, desired, or expected a Los Angeles Football Network article to reference politics…but here we are. Such is this week’s LA football destiny because the UC Regents, in the aftermath of their Wednesday hearing, have chiseled the issue of UCLA’s move to the BIG-10 into a political one.
UCLA Athletics is that middle-class entity amongst its institutional peers, that has proven it can do better, and the Regents are the socialist government trying to hold them back. Let’s get one thing clear – the Regents can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t do anything but champion this move, if for no other reason than self-preservation. But let’s save the logical conclusions for the end of this piece, and succinctly encapsulate how we got here.
The “Not So” Simple Matter at Hand
Wednesday’s UC Regents meeting held at the Luskin Center on the UCLA campus felt part political theatre and part intervention mourning the end of a hierarchy. The Regents seemed befuddled by the complexities of a modern college athletics operating model and simultaneously hurt that their inadequate knowledge on the matter wasn’t consulted enough. In the end, after a host of nebulous commentary, they presented a three-part recommendation. Namely, the UC President would retain authority on all athletics program matters (in leu of university chancellors and athletic directors) under the following conditions:
- The proposed transaction has a greater than or equal to a 10% negative impact on any campus’ athletic department’s revenue
- The proposed transaction raises a significant question about university policy
- The proposed transaction will create reputational risk/harm to any UC campus
The UCLA move to the BIG-10 has no applicability to points two and three, but where it gets interesting is point one. As part of the Regents’ deliberation, the UC Office of the President estimated the value USC and UCLA, respectively, attribute to the overall PAC-12. The results were profound – USC, given its unparalleled west coast accomplishment and pedigree in football, contributed 30% of the conference’s value. While UCLA, given its historic and unprecedented contribution to the less revenue-generating sport of college basketball, contributed 10%.
The PAC-12’s next media rights deal with USC and UCLA was estimated at $500M annually spread out over 12 teams, thus leading to an average amount of approximately $42M per team. Now with USC and UCLA gone, and taking their total 40% valuation with them, that deal will look closer to $300M annually spread over 10 teams. This comes to approximately $30M per team. That’s a $12M shortfall for each team where about $9M is due directly to USC and $3M is courtesy of UCLA. Thus, the Regents point of “genuine” contention (or outlandish political theatre) is that UCLA’s move violates point one of their three recommendations.
Takeaway #1 – Recommendations Are Not Law
Regardless of what you hear and read over the coming days, make sure this point remains unassailable in your mind: recommendations are NOT legally binding.
The Regents made a recommendation to the UC Office of the President. This was not a constitutional code change, nor was it a bylaws redaction, and thus has zero legal weight behind it. This would be the equivalent of writing a letter to your child’s dream school begging them to reconsider after he/she was rejected. Nothing’s going to happen other than this being an Oprah-like exercise of getting displaced anger off your chest.
The Regents are giving the illusion of thoughtful post-mortem analysis to distract California constituents from deducing their embarrassment of having the most tectonic west coast athletic realignment in United States history happen right underneath their nose.
Takeaway #2 – This is not a UC Problem, This is a Cal Problem
Eight of the UC schools have never been affiliated with the PAC-12 and have no horse in the race. The only school impacted is Cal and the shame of little brother leaving big brother behind is the overarching resentment.
UCLA was founded in 1919 as “The Southern Branch of the University of California” (SBUC), its mascot was a Bruin because that’s a baby bear, and its colors are a lighter shade of blue as an ode to being a variant of UC Berkeley. Everything about UCLA’s symbolic existence was meant to convey being in service to the mightier, flagship, all-powerful UC Berkeley. Now, for the first time in the history of this country’s public higher education infrastructure, a new flagship has emerged within an existing public system.
UCLA is now not only the #1 ranked public school for the past half-decade (usurping Cal) but also leaving them behind with the all-exclusive BIG-10 invitation. Take any public education system – Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan. There has always been a clear pecking order with the likes of Austin, Madison, Urbana-Champaign, and Ann Arbor being the flagships and all other campuses being satellite locations.
For the first time, we are seeing the transfer of power from one flagship to another before our very eyes, and just the way systems of government, sports dynasties, or tech conglomerates are dethroned, it can get petty, public, and personal.
Takeaway #3 – UCLA has EARNED a BIG-10 Invitation, Cal has NOT
The Bruins have earned the right to be part of the BIG-10. Their 11 basketball national championships and 2nd most NCAA titles all-time, coupled with their 10 Sweet 16 and four Final Four appearances since 2000, make them instantly the crown jewel basketball centerpiece of the BIG-10.
The Trojans have earned the right to be part of the BIG-10. Their 11 football national championships, 3rd most NCAA titles all-time, and seven Heisman Trophy winners instantly make them perennial co-football favorites (along with Ohio State) of the conference faster than any iconic Reggie Bush touchdown.
Yes, the Bruins and Trojans reached out with a proposal, but make no mistake, their athletic resumes spoke for themselves in emphatic fashion.
Cal has not earned the right to be in the BiG-10. Truthfully, they are lucky to be in the Power 5 entirely. Bears football has won the PAC-10/12 ONCE in the last 47 years, hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1958, and Bears basketball hasn’t been to a Final Four since 1960.
Cal’s problem is not that UCLA is leaving, rather, their problem is an apathetic fan base, dilapidated facilities, and eroding donor interest given paltry on-the-field success. Golden Bears, look inward for those practical, achievable, and self-sustainable solutions rather than asking for a handout with the entitlement of a trust-fund baby.
Takeaway #4 – If the Regents Keep Chirping, Pandora’s Box is Paradoxical
If the Regents know what’s good for them, they will let this go after putting on a nice horse-and-pony show for their constituents this week. For, the entire premise of their argument is needing to be involved in athletics matters with greater than or equal to 10% budgetary impact. Yet ONLY 6% of UCLA’s entire operating annual budget comes from the state, with Cal having a similar level of support. From a financial perspective, UCLA is a private university that must adhere to this public infrastructure. It does so willingly because the opportunity cost of making a fuss is not worth their time given the profound academic, research, and social impacts they’re focused on.
The Regents are rapidly having the strategic relevance of the English royal family. They’re more symbolic, archeological, and ceremonial than they care to admit. There’s also an unwritten Quid Pro Quo – “you can enjoy the social prestige of your roles as long as you stay in your lane.” If the Regents attempt to codify this 10% rule, it will need to apply to all university issues, and thereby contradict their very existence given the state’s impoverished 6% level of funding.
The Regents are nothing if not politically astute, and they know a slippery slope awaits if they keep banging on this drum. Self-preservation dictates to not awaken the sleeping Bruin.
It’s only fitting this piece has a recommendation in the spirit of Regential procedure. Cal will undergo a $12M shortfall given the cross-state rivals, exit stage Midwest. $9M is attributed to an entity, USC, that the UC Regents have no jurisdiction over.
Thus, if the Regents truly want to adhere to a socialist construct, the UC Office of the President should subsidize the $3M Cal shortfall (attributed by UCLA) from the overall UC budget. Cal is happy, UCLA is happy, and the Regents will have truly done their job because they looked out for both UC constituents.
Even considering UCLA to subsidize Cal is “selective socialism.” There’s another word for selective socialism…it’s called hypocrisy.