The Lawsuit That Changed College Athletics

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Back in 1984, the world was in the middle of the Cold War,
and the United States was running an arms race with the Soviet Union. The winner
would emerge from the Cold War as the most influential, most powerful nation in
the world. At the same time, the United State Supreme Court was making an
important decision that would lead to another arms race, this time in the world
of college football.

This was the time when college football wasn’t
considered to be a big business. Old schoolers considered college football to be
an outlet to promote the name and educational values of the universities, not to
make money or send a lot of players to the NFL. Sure, making a little cash off
of the sport was great, but that wasn’t its purpose.

The NCAA had control of just about everything in college
football. The two most powerful forces that move college football today,
television contracts and bowl tie-ins and revenue, were squarely in the hands of
the NCAA. By the late 1970s, the thought process of the NCAA had not progressed
as quickly as that of the university athletic departments, which saw college
football as a potential cash cow, even more than it already was.

The problem for the athletic departments was that the NCAA
was standing directly in their path and refused to budge. The NCAA, which
controlled the college football television contracts, had a policy of allowing
each school only one or two television games per year. There were a couple of
reasons for this. Number one, it created more parity in college football. The
big dogs with huge fan bases would have trouble further separating themselves
from the pack if they didn’t have more television games.

The second, and dumbest, reason was to protect attendance
at college football games. The NCAA figured that if games were on television,
people would just stay home and watch from their couches, which would hurt gate

“We’re trying to protect you,” the NCAA said to the

“Thank you,” replied the schools, “but we can
protect ourselves.”