Julio Frenk takes charge at UCLA: What his appointment means for the Bruins (and college sports on the West Coast) (2024)

Moments after the University of California regents approved his appointment Wednesday morning, new UCLA chancellor Julio Frenk addressed the system’s governing board.

Frenk touched on his personal background and life in public service, UCLA’s mission and history of innovation, the challenges facing higher education and more.

It all made perfect sense for a physician who was born in Mexico City, served as the country’s secretary of health, became a Harvard dean and has been the president of the University of Miami for the past nine years.

Frenk also noted that he has always considered himself “a boundary-spanner.”

As the new boss in Westwood, he certainly will be that.

Frenk’s tenure, which begins in January, will have massive ramifications for UCLA athletics and perhaps college sports on the West Coast.

Before we explain the implications, let’s be clear: This could have been much, much worse for the Bruins.

In all their wisdom, the regents could have hired a chancellor lacking experience with major college sports — a medieval literature professor from Swarthmore College, for example, or an engineering dean from the University of Chicago.

Instead, the regents selected a sitting university president who hired Mario Cristobal, understands the significance of NIL and is familiar with the NCAA’s roiling landscape (thanks, in part, to his colleagues at Florida State and Clemson).

In fact, Frenk’s tenure on the ACC’s board of directors overlapped with UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond’s tenure in the conference (at Boston College).

“During my time in the ACC, I observed Chancellor Frenk’s leadership and support of the value of athletics at the University of Miami and was very impressed with his vision,” Jarmond said in a statement released by the Bruins.

“I am looking forward to introducing him to the great traditions of UCLA Athletics and partnering with him and his leadership team as we embark upon this new era of collegiate athletics.”

Outgoing UCLA chancellor Gene Block doesn’t know if footballs are inflated or stuffed. Even worse, he doesn’t care.

In theory, Frenk knows — and cares. But to what extent will he devote the resources necessary to ensure UCLA’s competitive success in the Big Ten?

Painted with broad strokes, the numbers create a challenging future for the Bruins …

(Our apologies if you thought there would be no math.)

UCLA’s revenue from the Big Ten’s media rights contract with Fox, CBS and NBC will increase by roughly $40 million per year compared to what the Bruins have been receiving in the Pac-12. (What they would have earned if the Pac-12 had stayed intact is a different calculation.)

And their annual intake from the expanded College Football Playoff will increase by about $15 million starting in 2026, when the event’s new contract kicks in.

That’s approximately $55 million from UCLA’s primary, conference-driven revenue sources.

Meanwhile, operational costs are about to soar:

— The Bruins will incur at least $10 million in new travel expenses, according to their own estimates.

— They must subsidize Cal’s athletic department to the tune of $10 million annually for at least three years, per the UC regents’ directive.

— They must pay $20 million annually in a revenue-sharing agreement with athletes, according to the settlement terms of the House antitrust lawsuit.

— And that same settlement is expected to increase scholarship costs by about $10 million for schools in the power conferences.

Those line items total $50 million in expenses.

In other words, much of the new revenue headed to Westwood from the Big Ten is accounted for.

If it’s not a wash, it’s reasonably close.

That’s potentially problematic, because the Bruins ran a $37 million operational deficit in 2023 and have accumulated massive debt over the course of several years.

Their deep red number comes with limited university support. Unlike so many Pac-12 athletic departments, including Cal, the Bruins do not receive tens of millions annually in direct campus support. The university funnels about $2 million in student fees to athletics, and that’s it.

If the Block funding model continues under Frenk, it’s difficult to envision the Bruins having the fiscal flexibility to thrive on the fields and courts (and pools and tracks) in the Big Ten.

And if this high-priced, cross-country experiment flounders, what becomes of UCLA athletics over the long haul?

Would the Bruins stay in the Big Ten, content with a second-class existence?

Would they be invited into a college football super league that could emerge in the 2030s?

Would they reverse course and place their Olympic sports, so critical to the school’s athletic ethos, in a reformed Pac-12?

Would all their teams return to a reconstituted Pac-12 that assuredly would be enticing to the Bay Area schools?

Several scenarios are feasible.

Nothing is a given.

The only clarity in college sports comes when looking in the rearview mirror.

Many of the potential outcomes could carry implications for Cal, Stanford and other athletic departments on the West Coast.

All of them will depend, inextricably and indisputably, on the level of support the Bruins receive from their new chancellor.

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Julio Frenk takes charge at UCLA: What his appointment means for the Bruins (and college sports on the West Coast) (2024)
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