A story that has been developing for several months, but has received little national interest to this point, took another twist this week. Court documents reveal that UCLA is now seeking legal remedies that would allow the Bruin baseball team to continue playing at Jackie Robinson Stadium. In one of the strangest athletics facility stories in recent years, the defending national champions could be out of a home due to an illegal lease agreement.
Jackie Robinson Stadium sits on land that belongs to the Veterans Administration. In late August, a federal judge ruled that the land can only be used for the benefit of disabled veterans and no other outside uses. The ruling stems from the original deed for the land that states that the 388 acres must be reserved forever. A number of federal statutes outline the use of federal VA land and stipulate that it must be used for healthcare services for veterans. Currently, the land in L.A. is home to the stadium, a film studio storage lot, and several other businesses. In 2008, Congress prohibited the Department of Veterans Affairs from entering into new leases on the land in Los Angeles. This current lawsuit was brought forth by local veterans. The most recent ruling, assuming that it is upheld, will be enforced in early March of next year.
Until this week, UCLA has stayed out of the legal proceedings. The local NBC affiliate has aptly described UCLA as staying “on the sidelines” during the legal process. Immediately after the ruling, athletic director Dan Guerrero did issue a statement. In addition to giving some insight into UCLA’s potential argument to keep playing in the stadium, he included this statement:
“Despite our optimism and high expectations of playing the 2014 season at Jackie Robinson Stadium, we are doing our due diligence to identify other viable locations, in the event that the federal court forces us to vacate the stadium.”
One would assume that UCLA’s legal team could potentially tie up proceedings long enough to allow the Bruins to complete the 2014 at Jackie Robinson Stadium. But if the team is evicted, it would be in a better spot than most programs as there would be no shortage of alternate venues in the Los Angeles area. Clearly, the athletic department has a responsibility to create a contingency plan in case the ruling is upheld. However, it is interesting that Guerrero is so open about what could be perceived as doubts about the possible success of the case.
Jackie Robinson Stadium opened in 1981 and underwent a renovation in 2006. The current seating capacity is 1,250 and UCLA did not rank in the top 50 in attendance for the 2013 season. Going forward, this court ruling and subsequent eviction could be the catalyst for a new, on-campus stadium. College baseball has seen a rash of new construction in recent years and there is a little doubt that UCLA would benefit from a larger, modern stadium.