Any attempt by University of California regents to block UCLA’s move to the Big Ten could jeopardize the way the board does business, according to a former chief of staff to a UC president.
John Sandbrook, who was chief of staff to former UC President Mark Yudof and longtime UCLA assistant chancellor under Charles Young, told The Times that the governors trying to prevent a business transaction properly conducted by a university chancellor under his delegation of authority could have. chilling effect on future transactions of any type with a third party for all 10 UC campuses.
“Other members of the board of regents need to stop for a moment and think about that,” said Sandbrook, who attended more than 100 regents meetings and wrote dozens of agendas for the board every year from 1974 until his retirement from the UC in 2010.
Two governors told The Times on Wednesday that they believed their board retained the authority to prevent UCLA from leaving the Pac-12 in 2024, though they stopped short of saying that authority would be exercised.
“All options are on the table,” Gov. John Perez said.
Asked if he preferred to scrap the deal, board president Richard Leib told The Times it was “too early” to make that decision or gauge whether other governors would support taking steps to block UCLA’s move to the Big Ten. Although several governors have expressed concerns about the impact on athletes’ health and academic performance due to longer travel times, Leib said they could be mitigated. The use of more charter flights, for example, would be less stressful than commercial flights, he said.
Some governors said during Wednesday’s meeting that their objection was a lack of notice about UCLA’s change in conference affiliation and that they preferred proposed new rules to require more communication.
The majority of the governors, along with Gov. Gavin Newsom, expressed concerns about how UCLA’s move — along with cross-town rival USC — could financially hit UC Berkeley while also increasing the strain on UCLA athletes due to the travel burden associated with competing at UCLA. conference covering one coast to the other.
When UCLA announced its intentions to bolt for the Big Ten in late June, chancellor Gene Block and athletic director Martin Jarmond touted the move’s ability to strengthen its athletic department amid a rapidly changing college sports landscape. The move would come with enormous financial benefits, expand the school’s recruiting base and provide a level of prestige that continued membership in the Pac-12 would not match.
If the governors were to cancel UCLA’s defection, Sandbrook said, he wondered if the Big Ten could sue them for interfering with their new multibillion-dollar media contract that was agreed upon with the understanding that UCLA would soon be a member of the conference.
The debate over UCLA’s ability to unilaterally switch conferences centers on a 1991 UC system policy that delegated authority to campus chancellors to implement their own contracts, including intercollegiate athletic agreements. Charlie Robinson, general counsel for the UC system, said during the regents’ meeting Wednesday that the board president could supersede that authority.
“One mechanism would be for the [regent] board chair to say, “I’m ordering you, in this case, to step down,” Robinson said, “and the board will exercise authority in this area.”
To protect itself from similar dilemmas in the future, UC system leadership has proposed new rules that could limit campuses from making major decisions involving athletic contracts on their own. The governors are expected to vote on the proposal at their September meeting in San Diego.
Sandbrook said he could recall only two cases in which the UC regents reversed or modified actions taken by a university chancellor or president under existing delegations of authority.
In 1970, the board of regents reversed UCLA chancellor Charles Young’s decision to rehire Angela Davis as acting associate professor of philosophy after she identified herself as a member of the Communist Party.
In 1996, the board of regents informally asked UC president Dick Atkinson to modify his decision to postpone, for one year, the implementation of affirmative resolutions.
Sandbrook questioned whether the regents had the legal authority to retroactively overturn Block’s decision which was communicated to Michael V. Drake, president of the UC system. Besides, Sandbrook wondered if the rulers wanted to invite the kind of chaos that intervening in this matter would create.
“If the governors set the precedent that any action taken under delegations of authority can be undone by the board,” Sandbrook said, “every loan agreement for a new campus building, the acceptance of a gift, the naming of a building — all of those things would then be subject to question.”