We know from published medical research by the National Institutes of Health, studies conducted by the NCAA, and discussions with our own student-athlete leaders that significant additional travel, including repetitive travel across 3 time zones, impacts student-athletes’ physical and mental well-being and their academic pursuits.
These increased travel demands require student-athletes to travel across multiple time zones regularly, which disrupts sleep, mood, and physical and cognitive function for days after travel and has cascading personal effects. In fact, a common medical guideline is that a body requires one day to adjust for each time zone crossed.
From our calculations based on nine of the UCLA teams with regular season conference travel schedules (football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, women’s soccer, baseball, men’s and women’s tennis, and softball), UCLA student-athletes competing in the Big Ten will fly 159% more air miles and drive 44% more bus ground milles than they do today in the Pac-12. Longer flight and bus times add up over the season and will result in fewer days on campus with their fellow students focused on education. Even if UCLA athletics decides to charter more flights, UCLA student-athletes will face, on average, double the days missed on campus.
2. Significant hardship for the families of UCLA student-athletes and UCLA alumni
Beyond the travel hardship for student-athletes, we are also concerned by the significant additional burden UCLA’s decision puts on families of student-athletes and loyal, invested alumni.
With almost all away, conference games occurring at least 2,000 miles from campus, the families of UCLA student athletes will face longer and more expensive trips to watch their kids compete. 70 percent of UCLA alumni live on the West Coast and will face similar travel and expense to watch the Bruins play away games.
3. Significant negative impact on UCLA expenses
Despite all the explanations made after the fact, UCLA’s decision to join the Big Ten was clearly financially motivated after the UCLA athletic department managed to accumulate more than $100M in debt over the past three fiscal years. The financial uplift to UCLA as an impetus for its decision has been widely touted by the media and in public discourse.
While it is true that the Big Ten Conference has recently announced a large media rights deal and distributions from the Big Ten to its member schools will be larger than distributions available to Pac-12 schools from the Pac-12 Conference for the near future, UCLA membership in the Big Ten will also require significant additional athletic department expenditures. By our estimates, UCLA’s additional travel costs, competitive salaries, and game guarantee expenses will more than offset ALL the additional revenues that UCLA will generate from the Big Ten’s media rights deal.
UCLA currently spends approximately $8.1M per year on travel for its teams to compete in the Pac-12 Conference. UCLA will incur a 100% increase in its team travel costs if it flies commercial in the Big Ten ($8.1M increase per year), a 160% increase if it charters half the time ($13.1M increase per year), and a 290 % increase if it charters every flight ($23.7M increase per year).
Beyond travel, we also expect UCLA to increase expenses to compete with the average Big Ten athletic department. Based on UCLA’s latest expenses, normalized to the average Big Ten athletic departments’ budget and size, UCLA will have to increase its head coaches’ salaries & bonuses by 19%, its assistant coach salaries by 13%, its guaranteed expenses by 122%, and its administrator salaries by 27%. This represents approximately $15M in additional annual expenses just to compete at an “average” Big Ten budget. Finally, UCLA will likely face other increased annual expenses to compete as a member of the Big Ten in marketing, fundraising, recruiting, and game operations.
Any financial gains UCLA will achieve by joining the Big Ten will end up going to airline and charter companies, administrators and coaches’ salaries, and other recipients rather than providing any additional resources for student-athletes.
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