Calling UCLA's move to Big Ten a 'short-sighted money grab,' group seeks regents' aid

UCLA prepares to take the field against California before an NCAA college football game
The National College Players Assn. sent a letter to the University of California regents on Wednesday asking them to block UCLA's planned exit from the Pac-12 Conference. (Jed Jacobsohn / Associated Press)

A new voice has joined the small but vocal chorus opposing UCLA’s move to the Big Ten Conference.

Ramogi Huma, a former Bruins linebacker who serves as executive director of the National College Players Assn., sent a letter to the University of California regents on Wednesday asking them to block UCLA’s planned exit from the Pac-12 Conference in August 2024.

Huma described the move as a “short-sighted money grab” that would harm college athletes, citing academic, racial and mental health concerns while also contending that athletic director Martin Jarmond would top a tiny group of beneficiaries.

“Not all money is good money,” Huma wrote. “The Regents should not let a handful of people sell the soul of the UCLA athletics program for TV dollars that will be spent on luxury boxes in stadiums and lavish salaries for a few.”


Huma’s letter comes as the regents prepare to render their verdict on UCLA’s departure during a meeting at the school scheduled for Dec. 14; the regents have said they hold the authority to block the move and have spent the last few months weighing their concerns over athlete well-being and the adverse impact on UC Berkeley versus the financial windfall that would accompany UCLA's exodus for the Big Ten.

In addition to repeating some of the concerns voiced by Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff, who has mentioned the strain of increased travel and missed class time as reasons for UCLA to stay put, Huma added a racial component. The letter stated that the graduation rate among UCLA’s Black athletes is 50%, compared with 73% for all Black students, while adding that athletes comprise 28% of the school’s Black male population, as opposed to white male athletes making up just 2% of that racial and gender group’s population.

“Allowing UCLA to move to the Big Ten will adversely affect 28% of the total Black male students,” Huma wrote, “compared to only 2% of total White male students.”

The letter also cited federal graduation rates for the school’s baseball players at 67%, though graduate rates in the sport are notoriously low nationwide because many of the best players leave after their third year to begin professional careers.

“There is nothing that UCLA can do to justify the move to the Big Ten given this data,” Huma wrote. “UCLA’s move to the Big Ten is nothing but a money grab that will increase the longstanding racial exploitation of UCLA’s Black male students.”

According to the letter, among the most heavily affected athletes would be those from lower-income households who could not afford airplane tickets and hotel stays for family members that would be required by membership in a coast-to-coast conference.

Of course, athletes who did want to deal with the travel burden could transfer without penalty and high school prospects being recruited by UCLA are undoubtedly factoring playing in the Big Ten into their decisions.

Jarmond and UCLA chancellor Gene Block have contended Big Ten membership would bolster their athletic department by enhancing its brand and increasing its recruiting base, among other benefits. At a regents meeting last month, Block committed to spending at least $10 million for enhanced nutrition, travel, academic support and mental health services for athletes.

The Big Ten has pledged to help offset some of UCLA’s increased travel costs by holding neutral-site jamborees involving Olympic sports from multiple conference schools, and the Bruins could lower airfare expenses by sharing flights with USC teams.

Block has cited increased national exposure for UCLA athletes and stronger competition as additional reasons why Big Ten membership would benefit the Bruins. The Big Ten has placed eight teams into the College Football Playoff since its debut after the 2014 season as opposed to only two from the Pac-12. Additionally, the Big Ten put nine teams in the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament versus only three from the Pac-12.

“The student-athletes have been excited about the opportunity to compete with the best teams,” Block told the regents last month. “In the end, we decided this was the best move for UCLA.”

In a rare display of unity between archrivals, UCLA athletes prioritized remaining in the same conference with USC over Cal. According to a survey of 111 Bruins athletes conducted by UCLA and the UC Office of the President, 93% said it was important or very important to keep UCLA in the same conference as USC compared to only 24% who said keeping UCLA and Cal together met the same level of importance.

Huma wrote that the Bruins’ chances of winning conference titles would decrease in a conference with 16 teams as opposed to one with 12, increasing the frequency of coaching turnover and leading to more buyouts like the roughly $12 million UCLA gave coach Jim Mora upon his dismissal in 2017.

Regarding UCLA’s contention that it would have to cut Olympic sports should it remain in the Pac-12, the letter said the school’s athletic department could cut from other areas such as the lavish buyouts and $5.4 million it once spent on football meals in a fiscal year.

“UCLA does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem,” Huma wrote. “UCLA is fully capable to preserving all sports if it remains in the Pac-12. If the Regents are concerned that UCLA may cut sports if the Big Ten move is blocked, the Regents should block UCLA’s ability to cut sports instead of allowing UCLA to drag its entire athletic program to the other side of the country for games.”

While acknowledging that Big Ten membership would generate additional revenue — some estimates have UCLA pocketing between $65 million and $75 million in media rights revenue alone in the first year — Huma questioned where that money would go, listing the athletic director, football coach and men’s basketball coach without naming them directly.

“It will also lead to the additional hiring of an ever-increasing athletic administration staff,” Huma wrote, alluding to UCLA acknowledging that it would need to spend at least $10 million more to provide enhanced nutrition, travel, academic support and mental health services. “It will benefit construction companies who will build the next gold-plated facility.”

The letter also encouraged the regents to impose geographical limitations on conference membership to avoid many of the issues the school faces. Quoting statistics from a survey UCLA recently conducted, the letter stated concerns about 38% of the school’s athletes reporting not having enough information to determine whether the planned conference switch was good or bad.

“I do not believe that UCLA athletes have the factual information contained in this letter, but I’m sure most or all heard UCLA’s proclamation that the conference move is good,” Huma wrote. “The Regents should consider this before making a decision.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.