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 receipts.

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

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

And that’s exactly what they did in 1977. The ACC, Big Eight, SEC, SWC and WAC, plus Notre Dame and Penn State, joined together to form the College Football Association. They hired Charles M. Neinas, the commissioner of the Big Eight Conference, as their director.

While it’s not accurate to say that this group split off from the NCAA, they definitely