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Don’t Stick to Sports: I’ll believe UCLA joins the Big 10 if and when it actually happens

UCLA has an Everest-sized mountain of problems to surmount to join the B1G.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest bit of offseason news this year has been the purported flight of UCLA and USC to the Big 10, for football. (Recall yesterday when I insinuated that it had been too quiet of an offseason. Welp).

For today’s purposes, we’re going to mostly ignore USC. As a private institution that is not part of the California State University (CSU) System or the UC “Public Trust” system, the Trojans have significant discretion in where they take their ball and play, metaphorically and otherwise. However, the University of California-Los Angeles has very limited discretion, and is subordinate to and reliant upon the California Assembly for many things. It is the Bruins’ potential departure that concerns us, and is the one most likely to bring the whole expansion scheme grinding to a halt.

UCLA is a state institution; it is not a free agent, so to speak. And, as an extension of the state, it is beholden to California for funding, for its operational charter, for the composition of its regency — even to the prosaic, like broader admissions schemes. Anything that advances the needs of the state can be used to constrain the power of UCLA administrators, or conversely be directed towards them as a mandate in order to fulfill state policy objectives.

The most obvious limitation upon UC schools, is that the California Assembly appropriates about 2/3rds of the operating revenue for the UC/CSU systems. Though the institutions have been given broad powers over day-to-day expenditures, as well as general administration of the schools, that power is not without limits. The Assembly can prohibit the spending of public monies by its public institutions for any reason that “advances the state’s needs or legislative purpose.”

Think that dragnet clause is mere verbiage and doesn’t seem so ominous? Not really. As the most officious (even meddlesome) state legislature in the nation, the California Assembly (CA) increasingly uses its power of the purse to advance its own legislative goals — and more often, withholds funds from state institutions and employees that would be spent pursuing something in opposition to CA policy goals.

Let’s take just one instance, the greater LGB and trans issue. The State has already passed legislation prohibiting state-funded travel or other expenditures to almost two dozen states, pursuant to AB 1887, which determined that “California must take action to avoid supporting or financing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.” (Gov. Code, § 11139.8, subd. (a)(5).)

To that end, AB 1887 prohibits a state agency, department, board, or commission from requiring any state employees, officers, or members to travel to a state that, after June 26, 2015, has enacted a law that (1) has the effect of voiding or repealing existing state or local protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; (2) authorizes or requires discrimination against same-sex couples or their families or on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; or (3) creates an exemption to antidiscrimination laws in order to permit discrimination against same-sex couples or their families or on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. (Gov. Code, § 11139.8, subds. (b)(1), (2).) In addition, the law prohibits California from approving a request for state-funded or state-sponsored travel to such a state. (Gov. Code, § 11139.8, subd. (b)(2).)

The travel prohibition applies to state agencies, departments, boards, authorities, and commissions, including an agency, department, board, authority, or commission of the University of California, the Board of Regents of the University of California, and the California State University. (Gov. Code, § 11139.8, subd. (b).)

Wanna guess who’s on the list? If you said “Rust Belt, Deep South, Midwest” you’d be a prescient observer...and most notably that does include Ohio.

There are exceptions, sure. But none of them apply to this circumstance:

Enforcement of California law, including auditing and revenue collection.


To meet contractual obligations incurred before January 1, 2017.

To comply with requests by the federal government to appear before committees.

To participate in meetings or training required by a grant or required to maintain grant funding.

To complete job-required training necessary to maintain licensure or similar standards required for holding a position, in the event that comparable training cannot be obtained in California or a different state not subject to the travel prohibition.

For the protection of public health, welfare, or safety, as determined by the affected agency, department, board, authority, or commission, or by the affected legislative office.

(Gov. Code, § 11139.8, subd. (c).)

In short, just on the issue of homosexual and trans persons, California already prohibits travel to the home state of the Big 10’s standard-bearer.

And, with more legislation pending (particular as pertains to trans persons), we’re not done by a long shot. Iowa has 14 bills that run afoul of AB 1887; Wisconsin 6; Minnesota 6; Pennsylvania and Michigan 2; Maryland and Illinois 1; Indiana and Ohio have three others apiece. The sole state without legislation not implicating AB1887 is Nebraska — and don’t expect them to sit on the sideline on this issue either.

Hell, four more states were placed on California’s no-travel list just yesterdaymeaning fully half the nation is now on the list of prohibited state-funded travel for all State of California employees...which includes each and every trainer, athletic director, position coach, SID, and coach on the UCLA staff. Those bans include not only Big 10 states, but also three of the four major bowl destination spots: Texas, Louisiana and Florida. Nor does AB1887 just restrict travel; it very clearly entails that state employees may not sign contracts which require them to make such travel either.

That’s kind of an issue with at least four road games and a bowl every year, huh?

But even that’s not the end complete. With the reversal of Roe, and GOP-led legislatures looking at ways to prohibit out of state travel for abortion services, how long until those anti-abortion laws clash with California’s proposed measures that will not only welcome these women, but indeed provide protections as they seek health care?

It hardly requires Nostradamus-tier prognostication to see legal tensions and litigation on the well as a lot more state bans coming, as places like Ohio criminalize their citizens’ interstate travel, even while (to their mind) states like California attempt to harbor or abet them.

Those are just the extant and readily foreseeable issues, both legislatively and monetarily.

What then about the personal morality of it? There are more than a few administrators, professors and others associated with the UC system who are not only hostile to their red state kin (and vice versa), but to college athletics in general. Is UCLA prepared for years of internal pushback, countervailing litigation, faculty rebellions, or a potential diaspora of state the middle of California losing population for the first time in its history?

And we’ve not even gotten into external litigation by aggrieved third parties, nor exactly what the CA Assembly could do (and will likely try to do) to prevent enriching states with whom it has fundamental political divisions. For you and I, this may seem to be about no-fly zones. But the “legislative needs” are a broad category of concerns, where the Assembly can exert the full extent of its constitutional plenary powers. You can almost certainly bet that, to one or more faction of the Assembly, this will be an issue.

If there is anything that education administrators fear, it is litigation and accountability. A rapid move the Big 10 can and likely will bring both...all just to chase a few extra playoff bucks by riding the coattails of their betters.

This is, in short, a rotten legal fit because it is a rotten cultural fit. If state legislatures are the direct will of the people, then the people of the Golden State have already spoken, and they do not want their tax dollars going to benefit the Indianas and Ohios of the world. These dollars are, at their heart, the praxis of democracy: votes given effect.

Unless and until someone tells me how UCLA works around this, then I just don’t see it happening. That’s not to say that it won’t; that is to say that as of today’s writing, it is as impractical and potentially illegal as it is foolish.