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Canzano: UCLA and Pac-12 living in limbo together
UC Regents will rule on Dec. 14.
The University of California Board of Regents will meet next Wednesday to decide the fate of UCLA.
Remain in the Pac-12 Conference?
Leave for the Big Ten in 2024?
The Bruins will either receive the blessing of the UC Regents and a potential financial penalty next week, per a source, or UCLA will be told by the regents that it’s not going anywhere.
It got me thinking about what life in limbo must be like for UCLA and the 10 members of the Pac-12 who aren’t planning to leave for the Big Ten.
“Frankly,” one of the holdover athletic directors said, “we’ve moved on. Our focus is on the 10 of us.”
UCLA’s Martin Jarmond and USC’s Mike Bohn have attended several of the conference’s AD meetings during the last six months, per sources. It has to be awkward. They sit in on the procedural stuff, but are excused from the room when it comes to talking about matters such as media rights and strategy.
Then, Jarmond and Bohn are let back in.
USC is gone. That’s not in doubt. UCLA is probably leaving, too. Most insiders put the chances of the regents forcing the Bruins back to the Pac-12 at somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. But last month, when the UC Regents punted the decision to Dec. 14, it got some wondering.
Is the Pac-12 set to land a larger than expected media-rights windfall? Will the UC Regents examine the financials and decide that UCLA was hasty and that football shouldn’t drive decisions that affect so many others? And if so, do regents have the teeth to stop the Bruins?
Said a second holdover Pac-12 athletic director: “I’d be shocked if they came back… the conversations have been ongoing but it’s never seemed realistic to many of us.”
It’s been a grind for UCLA since June 30, too. I’ll bet Jarmond and his Chancellor, Gene Block, feel like there’s no winning next week. Damned if they stay, damned if they go. They’ll face public scrutiny and possible litigation, either way.
“They have a rough road ahead,” said the second AD.
Prior to signing on with the Big Ten, the Bruins were holding a lousy hand and faced a financial crisis. UCLA’s braintrust believed it was acting in the best interest of the university when it cut the deal to go to the Big Ten.
Since last summer, UCLA has been busy meeting requests from the UC Regents for information, studies and data analysis. The Bruins have been vilified by fans and scrutinized by media. Notable alumni such as Bill Walton have roasted them. During this time in limbo, I’ve often wondered if the Bruins feel more like a Pac-12 member or Big Ten member.
Said one athletic department staffer: “You’re not really part of either.”
It’s the stuff of an Edward Hale short story from the 1800s — “The Man Without a Country.” But the central character in that tale wasn’t an athletic department that accrued $100 million in debt. It was a soldier, on trial for treason. He renounced his country and was sentenced to spend the rest of his days at sea. In the end, the protagonist figured out that few things mattered more than belonging to something larger than himself.
Right now, UCLA doesn’t feel like a school with a conference.
In five days, the Pac-12 and UCLA expect that to be resolved. After that, the conference has seven football bowl games and will head to January focused on finalizing its media-rights package. Then, conference expansion looms.
If UCLA stays in the Pac-12, San Diego State emerges as the most likely candidate to replace the divot left by USC’s departure. The Aztecs have been in a slow dance with the Pac-12. San Diego State would add 1.1 million TV households to the equation.
If UCLA leaves for the Big Ten, San Diego State becomes even more important. But I anticipate there could be at least one other expansion partner seriously considered. UNLV? SMU? Boise State? Gonzaga in multiple sports? Some other prospective member currently in a Power Five Conference?
Five days, folks, and we’ll get some resolution.
In the meantime, I keep thinking about that lieutenant in the short story. He was adrift at sea. Nobody was allowed to give him information on his country. He just floated along, wondering where it was all headed.
UCLA won’t have to wait forever.
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