Here is a synopsis of the leading court decisions in each major sport. Without them, the players wouldn't be where they are today. Neither would the owners. BASKETBALL Robertson v. NBA (1975) FACTS: Following reports of a possible NBA-ABA merger in 1970, NBA player representatives filed a class action suit to enjoin any merger and to bar as illegal restraints of trade the continued use of the draft and reserve or option systems. An injunction was granted in May, 1970. As part of a pretrial hearing in 1975, the league sought judicial approval of its draft and reserve systems. RULING: The NBA request for approval was denied. The court strongly intimated that the draft was illegal and further suggested that had the case gone to trial the players might have won. SIGNIFICANCE: No trial was held because the case was settled in February 1976. But U.S. District Judge Robert Carter's strong hints that the league had a weak defense convinced the owners it was time for a change. A runaway for the players, setting the stage for their current prosperity. BASEBALL Flood v. Kuhn (1972) FACTS: In October 1969, Curt Flood was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies. Not particularly relishing the prospect of moving to Philadelphia, nor happy with his treatment by the Cards, he sued under the antitrust laws to invalidate the reserve clause that bound him to the Phils. BASEBALL'S DEFENSE: Overruling the reserve clause would destroy the game by allowing wealthy teams to buy the best players; the sport had been exempt from antitrust laws since 1922 and to remove the exemption would cause chaos; if the exemption were to be removed it should be done by Congress, not the courts. RULING: Neither the District Court, Court of Appeals nor Supreme Court would rule the reserve clause illegal. SIGNIFICANCE: A complete victory for baseball, reaffirming its exemption from the antitrust laws and shielding the reserve clause from attack. Kansas City Baseball Club v. Major League Players Association (1976) FACTS: In October 1975, the players association filed grievances on behalf of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, alleging that since Messersmith had played the season without a contract and McNally had played part of the season and then retired, both were free agents. The leagues disagreed. The Royals sued to stop the association from submitting the cases to arbitration and the other 23 clubs joined them. The parties then agreed to go to arbitration. BASEBALL'S POSITION: The grievance procedure established by the collective bargaining agreement did not authorize grievances concerning the reserve system. RULING: The arbitration panel, with Peter Seitz casting the decisive vote, voted 2-1 in favor of Messersmith and McNally, making them free agents. The panel held that nothing in the standard player contract expressly provided that it may be renewed for any period beyond the first renewal year. In the absence of such a provision, players could not be reserved for more than one year. SIGNIFICANCE: When the owners' appeals to the District Court and Court of Appeals were rebuffed and the panel's decision affirmed, the reserve clause suddenly was extinct and the players were free at last, subject to whatever restrictions the parties might later agree upon. FOOTBALL Mackey v. NFL (1975) FACTS: John Mackey, president of the National Football League Players Association, sued along with several other players, alleging that 10 of the plaintiffs had played out their options but could not change teams because of the Rozelle Rule, which they alleged was in violation of the antitrust laws and an illegal restraint of trade. NFL DEFENSE: Competitive balance would be destroyed if players were allowed to move from one team to another without compensation as determined by the commissioner (the Rozelle Rule). RULING: U.S. District Judge Earl Larson held the league's reasons for the Rozelle Rule were inadequate. The rule was an unreasonable restraint on players' freedom. The ability of a team to effectively hold onto a player forever was an anticompetitive practice and violated the antitrust laws. SIGNIFICANCE: A devastating setback for the NFL. The court made clear that the Rozelle Rule had not and would not control competitive balance and striking it down would not destroy the game. Alexander v. NFL (1977) FACTS: A class action suit filed by NFLPA president Kermit Alexander on behalf of all players under contract to NFL teams from September 1972-March 1977 alleged that the Rozelle Rule restrained competition for players during the 1972-75 seasons in violation of the anti-trust laws. RULING: None, because the case was settled before coming to trial. Just as in Robertson, however, the court thought the owners had very little defense. SIGNIFICANCE: An end to the bitter player-owner struggle and a new collective bargaining agreement. The owners settled the Mackey case for $2.2 million, the Alexander case for $15 million and promised another $90 million in benefits for the duration of the eight-year agreement (retroactive to 1974 and ending in 1982). The players agreed not to sue the league, clubs, or commissioner and consented to a new form of compensation to replace the Rozelle Rule. HOCKEY McCourt v. National Hockey League (1978) FACTS: When the Detroit Red Wings signed Los Angeles goalie Rogie Vachon, the Kings demanded McCourt, the 1977 Rookie of the Year, as compensation. Deciding that the Motor City had it all over Smogtown and he wouldn't go even if league bylaw 9A required him to, McCourt sued the league, players association and both teams, seeking a preliminary injunction preventing the league from forcing him to play in L.A. NHL DEFENSE: Because the bylaw and compensation system had been agreed upon by both parties to the collective bargaining agreement in arms' length negotiations, the antitrust laws didn't apply. RULING: McCourt hit .500, good in many leagues, but not this one. The U.S. District Court in Detroit agreed with him, holding the compensation system violated the antitrust laws, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision and upheld the league's position. SIGNIFICANCE: A victory for the league and many of the players, who were less than thrilled over the possibility of the bargaining agreement being voided and losing their pension benefits.