UCLA has begun preparing for a possible life without Jackie Robinson Stadium. A lawsuit brought against the Department of Veterans Affairs, on whose land the stadium sits, may force UCLA to leave the place its baseball program has called home for 50 years and find a new place for its national championship team to play.
The lawsuit alleges that the VA has been improperly entering into leases with third parties and while UCLA has not been named in the suit, they would not necessarily be exempt from the consequences of it. The judge has given the VA six months to file an appeal, a timeframe that coincides with the start of the 2014 season. It is possible that the Bruins will not be able to play at Jackie Robinson Stadium next season and even if they are, that may be their final season at the stadium.
Dan Guerrero wrote an optimistic letter, indicating that UCLA anticipates they will play at Jackie Robinson Stadium in 2014 and beyond, but, obviously, does not make any guarantees. He, along with Gene Block and the school's legal counsel, will continue to study the situation and make their case to remain on the land of the VA, but they are investigating contingency plans in case they are kicked out.
This begs the question: why is UCLA in this position and do they not already have contingency plans?*
* It also begs the question of what benefit the VA would get to kicking out (or being forced to kick out) a rent-paying tenant that provides a slew of benefits to veterans, but that's another subject.
For years, as Jackie Robinson Stadium was lapped time and time again by new and renovated facilities around the country and Pac-12, UCLA argued that there was only so much they could do to the facility because they did not own it. With a series of short-term leases, UCLA could spend $10 million to bring the stadium up to par, only to have the VA not renew their lease a year or two later so the renovation that the stadium so desperately needed wasn't realistic.
In short, UCLA knew it was a possibility, even if just a slight one, that they may have to move quickly to find a new home for their baseball program one day. That would require contingency plans from Day 1, whether there was this lawsuit or not.
If UCLA has to find elsewhere to play, it would not be the first time they played outside of Westwood. In 1980, they played their home games at Pepperdine while Jackie Robinson Stadium was built. Now this lawsuit has made it so Malibu, or another facility outside of Westwood, may come into play again next season or in 2015.
Of course, this all could have been avoided if UCLA had a stadium on campus. The baseball team moved off campus decades ago so Pauley Pavilion could be built and has not returned since. They were always dependent on the VA and any change of heart -- or now, a lawsuit -- would have left them homeless so a place on campus, where UCLA had no lease to worry about and could properly invest in the facility should have been the goal. It should be a goal now.
UCLA should never be beholden at anyone else. UCLA should never have inadequate facilities. UCLA should never have to consider the possibility of their defending national champions playing anywhere but Westwood.
But an on-campus stadium has yet to come to fruition and now UCLA may get the boot from Jackie Robinson Stadium. At least this is something that they are -- theoretically -- prepared for. It was always a possibility and remains a stronger one now than ever before.