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OPINION | COLUMNIST: UCLA, other schools, rush for paydirt

by Dave Zirin In the Los Angeles Times | December 9, 2022 at 3:07 a.m.

Big Ten football means something in the national psyche. It's the Midwest. It's Frigidaire-snowy Saturdays after a crisp fall. It's teams defined by tough running games and rounded shoulders. One thing it is not and has never been is a coastal operation of golden beaches and year-round sunshine.

And yet, here is UCLA, planning to abandon the Pac-12 conference and join the Big Ten, following a vote from the University of California Board of Regents next week.

This is about big business and treating our college campuses as settings for in-demand entertainment and only incidentally places where students happen to attend classes. This is about cold hard cash.

(USC is also moving to the Big Ten, which is similarly silly and craven, but as a private institution, USC does not have to go through a state board to make it a reality.)

With the addition of the Southern California teams, the Big Ten's new media deal is expected to bring in roughly $100 million annually for each of its 16 member schools, far outpacing the $31 million that the current Pac-12's television deal promises.

Boosters of the UCLA switch say this money is desperately needed or the university may have to cut sports teams. The school's athletic department posted an unheard of $62.5 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2021, and a three-year deficit of more than $100 million.

The department blames its disastrous ledger sheet on the pandemic, the elimination of home football games in 2020, and losing a lucrative deal with Under Armour in which the school's athletes were walking billboards for the company.

Interestingly, when it comes to UCLA budgeting, cutting coaching salaries, including football coach Chip Kelly's latest four-year $23 million deal or hoops coach Mike Cronin's six-year, $24.5-million contract never seems to be up for discussion.

And with Big Ten money about to flow into the school's coffers, making everyone who doesn't actually play a nice chunk of change, the toll on the players is also going underdiscussed. In effect, the plan is to treat UCLA's 18- to 22-year-old student athletes as fungible material in the manufacture of money.

The players will have to travel a great deal more throughout the season once UCLA moves to the Big Ten. Their flight schedule will be comparable to a pro team, but charter airfare's not the only price players and the schools will have to pay.

Figures presented at the UC Board of Regents meeting in November indicated that as much as $10 million will need to be spent on more academic advisers to travel with the team, more mental health therapists to get them through the rigors of the new schedule, and in addition to that, the program will also allocate "$252,000 for education, preventative measures and direct psychiatric care to help with sleep, eating disorders, substance abuse and other acute care."

Many college coaches hold this kind of duality in their heads: College sports is amateurism/college sports is business. It is obvious which one of those statements is the truth and which at best is a self-delusion.

Dave Zirin is the sports editor of the Nation and author of "The Kaepernick Effect."

Print Headline: UCLA rushes for paydirt


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