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I recently learned about the lexical blend calimony, which refers to a planned multi-million-dollar annual payment from UCLA (the University of California, Los Angeles) to Berkeley (the University of California, Berkeley, known in athletic contexts as "California" or "Cal"). Why will this payment exist? And why is it a metaphorical form of alimony?

Short form: As of next year, UCLA is leaving the Pac-12 for the Big 10, and 7 others of the 12 schools that gave the Pac-12 its name are also leaving. As a result, the Pac-12 will probably vanish, at least as a source of broadcast revenue. Because UCLA and Berkeley are both part of the state of California university system, the budgetary consequences… …don't matter in detail to the history of the lexical blend, but help to explain why the alimony metaphor makes sense.

Details: U.S. Collegiate Athletics is a multi-billion-dollar industry, whose income is mostly due to football and basketball. Some of the income comes from ticket sales, but an increasingly important slice comes from broadcast fees distributed through the "conferences", which are traditional collections of schools that play one another. The most important of these, at least in money terms, are the "Power Five", an unofficial group that includes the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Big Ten Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Pac-12 Conference, and the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

Like the many other U.S. athletic conferences, these groupings were originally based in part on geography, in some cases dating back to a time when student athletes had to visit rival schools by train or bus (or even horse-drawn carriages). The traditional conferences mostly persisted until recently, partly due to cultural conservatism, and partly due to the authority of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, whose authority was apparently eroded by a 1984 legal case.

The history is tangled — as are the names — in part because new schools have been created, independent schools have become conference members, and schools have jumped from one conference to another. Thus the "Pac-12" has historically been the Pac-8 and the Pac-10, and the "Big 10" now has 14 members, soon apparently to increase to 18.

The motivation for conference-jumping has recently increased because of shifts in the size of broadcast revenues, money from post-season bowl games, etc. And the rate of conference-jumping has correspondingly increased — see the footnotes to this Wikipedia table of the current Power Five conference membership. An image is below, since things are changing rapidly:

So the Pac-12 is due to become the Pac-4, which is not a viable size even for internal scheduling, much less broadcast money. There are rumors that Cal and Stanford might join the ACC, but apparently this would still leave Cal (i.e. Berkeley) in a hole financially. For speculations about the future of the UCLA/Cal divorce negotiations, see this article: Avinash Kunnath, "Cal getting reduced ACC revenue is more viable if UC Regents mandates Calimony from UCLA", Write For California 8/25/2023.

[If the image at the top of the post puzzled you, you need to connect the bear on the California flag with athletic mascots of UCLA and Cal.]


  1. Laura Morland said,

    August 27, 2023 @ 9:32 am

    Thank you, Mark! Not so much for linguistic, but for socio-cultural reasons. I recently returned to Berkeley after six months in France to find all the papers bemoaning the loss of the Pac 12, but I hadn't managed to learn the back story.

    It's worth pointing out that Cal athletic teams are known as BEARS, while UCLA's are the BRUINS. According to Wikipedia, bruin is an "English folk term for a brown bear":
    UCLA is a younger school than Cal Berkeley, so they ended up with that lesser-known term for bear.

    LL readers will probably know another old English name for bear: Beowulf! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf_(hero)

    Finally, the obligatory reference to (UCLA grad) Michelle Triola Marvin, the instigator of the term "palimony," without which the word "calimony" might not exist:

  2. Victor Mair said,

    August 27, 2023 @ 10:01 am

    As a former intercollegiate athlete who played in a league (Ivy) that didn't have a number attached to its name and as a passionate adherent of the original Big 10 (even played a few extra-conference games in it), which included my home state of Ohio, I must say that the shifting alliances of the new conferences make no sense to me regionally or numerically or even thematically.

  3. Brett said,

    August 27, 2023 @ 3:17 pm

    Having a national champtionship decided on the field, rather than by an idiotic poll of sportwriters, had some unexpected knock-on effects. Some of these were related to changes in the ways that bowl games were scheduled. Such changes were necessary under the new format, but they ended up destroying a number of important college sports traditions. For example, the Pac-10 and Big 10 conference champions would always play in the Rose Bowl,* and other conferences had associations with other important bowl games. However these (semi-)fixed matches were no longer going to be workable if various conference champions were instead going to be contending for the on-the-field national championships. The loss of these established events and the associated rivalries between whole regions/conferences—again, especially the Rose Bowl, which exemplified the rivalry between Midwest and Pacific coast schools—made it more palatable for teams from the power conferences to jump around.

    * The Rose Bowl (and the whole Tournament of Roses, with the parade) was a big enough deal that when the other bowl games sought out corporate sponsorships starting in the 1980s, the Rose Bowl did not.

  4. Nat said,

    August 27, 2023 @ 10:28 pm

    As a Berkeley alumnus, in the 90s I often heard “Cal”, but not ever (that I can recall) “California” (I assume “California” was used by announcers specifically during games, whereas “Cal” would be used on the street as well). I internalized very specific sociocultural associations with the term “Cal” associating with frat culture, and I avoided it (maybe a bit pompously), only referring to “Berkeley”.

  5. Alex said,

    August 27, 2023 @ 10:31 pm

    I wonder if UCLA wouldn’t be better served by bringing Berkeley with them to the Big 10

  6. Orin Ed DeNiro said,

    August 28, 2023 @ 2:42 pm

    The Pac 12 is returning to its origins as the Pac 4.

    "The roots of the Pac-12 Conference go back to December 2, 1915, when the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) was founded at a meeting at the Imperial Hotel in Portland, Oregon.[83] Charter members were the University of California (now University of California, Berkeley), University of Washington, University of Oregon, and Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University). The PCC began play in 1916." Wikipedia article "Pac-12 Conference."

    Nothing new is new.

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 29, 2023 @ 1:52 pm

    A world in which the "Big 10" conference can have >10 members is also a world in which the "Atlantic Coast" conference can add new members with campuses located quite close to the Pacific. https://www.si.com/college/cal/news/acc-cal-stanford-football-hoops-only

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