After a week poised on the brink of what was alternately described as "healthy competition" and "chaos," televised college football was returned yesterday to the hands of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, at least temporarily.
A three-judge panel in Denver granted a stay requested by the NCAA of U.S. District Judge Juan Burciaga's decision in Oklahoma City last week to void more than $280 million in TV contracts between the NCAA and ABC, CBS and the Turner Broadcasting System.
The stay, however, awaits a response, required by next Wednesday, from the plaintiffs in the suit, the universities of Georgia and Oklahoma. Both schools, and a consortium of football-powerhouse allies called the College Football Association, believe individual institutions can do what they want with the broadcast rights to games they host.
"Obviously, we're relieved and delighted," said Tom Hansen, director of the NCAA's television committee, which has been controlling broadcasts of college games for 30 years.
"Obviously, we're really disappointed," said Mike Palmer, station manager of Oklahoma City's KOCO-TV, which had struck what appeared so far to be the only independent college football TV deal since Burciaga declared the NCAA's television controls in violation of federal antitrust laws.
Palmer said KOCO and a makeshift, 100-station satellite-linked network were going to broadcast Oklahoma's Saturday game against visiting Southern California (for which KOCO would have paid USC and OU about $125,000 each) to roughly "50 percent of the country." But with the stay being issued, the deal is off, said Palmer, who described as "substantial" the money KOCO had already spent on securing satellite time and related equipment.
ABC, CBS and Turner planned yesterday to proceed with the coming weekend's games as before.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the temporary stay and requested both parties in the suit to file further information on specific matters. Arguments on the NCAA's appeal of Burciaga's decision, which is a separate matter, could begin as soon as Nov. 15, said Howard Phillips, circuit court clerk.
Although the stay could be rescinded after Georgia and Oklahoma respond next week, legal and college observers believe that no matter what happens the schools involved will observe the NCAA contracts at least until the NCAA's appeal is decided.