Canzano: Interested in the voices of UCLA athletes
Will the Bruins stay in Pac-12? Or go?
UCLA was not happy with my recent column about a men’s soccer player who expressed some discomfort with the Bruins planned move to the Big Ten.
Constantinos Michaelides is a senior at UCLA and an Honor Roll student, studying economics. The move won’t affect him. He’ll be out of eligibility in 2024. But I asked him how he viewed potential Big Ten membership.
“We’re students,” he said. “We’re here for school, too. If you ask me it’s too much, just too much.”
One athlete is a very small sample size. I acknowledged as much in the original piece. A couple of folks at UCLA reached out after it posted, asking me why I didn’t quote men’s soccer players who were in favor of the move to the Big Ten. They also pointed to a survey of 600 UCLA athletes, which indicated there was support for the move.
The Bruins athletic department lost $65 million in 2021. About $40 million of that had to do with the pandemic. Oregon State ran at a deficit of $35 million in the same year and the University of Oregon was upside down by $65 million. If moving to the Big Ten is the only way to save the UCLA athletic department and keep Olympic sports from going under, it’s a no brainer.
Said one of the 10 remaining Pac-12 ADs: “Every one of us would have at least strongly considered it.”
Let’s be fair to UCLA.
It’s very easy to pile on, lament the loss of tradition and be frustrated with the Bruins for wanting to escape through an emergency exit. I quoted one soccer player. I also talked to two others, who didn’t want to go on the record.
When UCLA representatives called me to complain about the column, I asked them to set up an interview with an athlete who was in favor of the move.
I asked for their survey data.
They did not make it available.
This week, the UC Regents are meeting in San Francisco. They will weigh in on the fate of UCLA. In front of the meetings, the regents published some of the data from the survey.
• UCLA sent the survey to 600 athletes via email, but only 111 responded (80 women and 31 men).
• Only 42 total athletes in men’s and women’s sports that would be heavily impacted by the move to the Big Ten answered the survey. That included one men’s basketball player, zero baseball players, four football players and two men’s soccer players.
• Only 35 percent of the 111 respondents thought the move to the Big Ten was a “good idea.” Another seven percent thought it was a “bad idea.” The other 58 percent answered that they had “no opinion” or “need more information.”
• Among those who responded, 77 percent included “increased travel times” among their concerns. Another 66 percent noted “missed class times.”
I’m glad UCLA asked its athletes. I’m not surprised that the majority of college kids didn’t bother to respond. Like you and I, they heard in June that UCLA was gone to the Big Ten. Also, some of them won’t have eligibility beyond 2024.
Said one UCLA source: “Kids live in the now, not two years from now. It went to their email. Some responded, most didn’t.”
Bruins coaches have already started using the move to the Big Ten as part of their recruiting pitch. Future athletes will cast their votes by either choosing UCLA or deciding to go somewhere else. A survey won’t be needed.
The Pac-12 did all sorts of things wrong in this equation. It had terrible leadership under ex-commissioner Larry Scott. Sources at UCLA and USC told me they felt slighted by having to share revenue equally with the other 10 members despite being in a larger media market and paying higher taxes in California.
Commissioner George Kliavkoff should have been more tuned into the looming trouble when he took the job. Depending on who you ask, he was either lied to by USC and UCLA during his “listening tour” or he didn’t ask the right questions. I’m left wondering why the potential defection of USC wasn’t something a line of consultants didn’t warn the incoming conference commissioner about.
Said one Pac-12 AD, amid the chaos: “George is great. But he had one job — keep USC in the fold.”
USC is gone.
What happens to UCLA?
The Bruins probably leave for the Big Ten. I’ll put that at 90 percent. I think the UC Regents this week are likely going to slap UCLA with a financial penalty, but stop short of blocking the exit. But I’m left wondering whether current and future athletes at UCLA could possibly know how much their voices mattered to some of us.
I would love to know what they think… whoever they are.
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