Exploring the consequences of UCLA football’s canceled nonconference matchups
UCLA football saw games with San Diego State, Hawai’i and New Mexico State canceled following the Pac-12 decision to first switch to a conference-only schedule and then postpone the fall season entirely. (Kanishka Mehra/Photo editor)
By Sam Connon
Aug. 18, 2020 2:03 p.m.
The novel coronavirus has taken quite the financial toll on collegiate athletics.
UCLA hasn’t necessarily been hit harder than its competition, but it wasn’t in the best spot to begin with either.
The school’s athletic department posted a deficit of almost $19 million in 2019, and the Pac-12’s decision to push the start of fall sports to Jan. 1, 2021 at the earliest created even more uncertainty. An outright canceled football season could mean $4 billion in lost revenue for schools nationwide, ESPN reported in May.
If the Bruins are able to return in the winter, the expectation is that the Pac-12 will play a conference-only schedule, as was the plan before the season was shut down Aug. 11.
So the question remains – what will be the fallout of UCLA missing out on its three nonconference games initially scheduled to take place in 2020?
According to documents obtained by the Daily Bruin, UCLA had agreed to pay its season-opening opponent New Mexico State $1.2 million for a game at the Rose Bowl on Aug. 29. The school was then set to take in $400,000 for each of its next two games against Hawai’i and San Diego State on Sept. 5 and 19, respectively.
All three contracts stated payments had to be made by the first day of April following the game, rather than specifying April 1, 2021.
The Bruins’ net return for the games was going to be -$400,000, but ticket sales, concessions, parking, media rights and broadcast revenue would have likely brought the team into the black.
The three contracts are similarly formatted and each contain a force majeure clause. If cited, the clauses would absolve the schools of liability for breach of contract so long as one party promptly notifies the other and takes all action to work around the inciting event.
The contracts defined force majeure events as acts of God, fires, flood, earthquake, war, public disaster, strikes or labor difficulties, governmental regulation or order or other events outside of the schools’ reasonable control. According to multiple legal outlets, the COVID-19 pandemic would fall under these parameters.
UCLA Athletics spokesperson Shana Wilson told The Bruin the department was in active discussions with all three opponents about how to proceed with the previously scheduled matchups. While the force majeure route could technically be in play legally speaking, Wilson said in an email Monday that the parties could come to an agreement to push the matchups to future seasons.
UCLA already has all three of its nonconference games set for 2021 – an Aug. 28 matchup against Hawai’i at the Rose Bowl, as well as home contests against LSU and Fresno State on Sept. 4 and 18, respectively. Wilson said the team is still planning to play its 2021 nonconference schedule as it is currently scheduled.
The Bruins had previously boasted a full nonconference slate through 2026, but Michigan called off its 2022-2023 home-and-home series with UCLA in October 2019. UCLA is already scheduled to play San Diego State in 2023 and Hawai’i in 2027, however, meaning additional reschedulings may be required in order for the Bruins to play the Aztecs, Rainbow Warriors and Aggies in the near future.
If the parties are not able to make scheduling arrangements and the force majeure clause is not cited, it remains to be seen what becomes of the three supposed 2020 matchups.
In the contract for the New Mexico State game, the party that unilaterally cancels or refuses to participate in the game must pay the other party $1.4 million in liquidated damages. The agreed-upon liquidated damages for the 2020 Hawai’i and San Diego State games are $1 million apiece, and all damages are required to be paid within 30 days of a party’s written demand and accusation of breach.
Financials aside, the Bruins were supposed to have their weakest nonconference schedule in decades in 2020. The last time UCLA didn’t play a Power Five opponent or Notre Dame as part of its nonconference slate was 1992.
The Bruins have yet to win a nonconference game in two seasons under coach Chip Kelly, and they are winless in their last seven of such contests dating back to 2017.