A U.S. Court of Appeals decision holding the NCAA's control over television rights to college football to be illegal could pave the way for separate organizations, athletic conferences and individual colleges to package and market rights to such contests, an attorney for the College Football Association said yesterday.
But the three major television networks and most college athletic administrators were taking a wait-and-see attitude yesterday in the wake of Thursday's ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that the NCAA's $281-million television contract with CBS, ABC and Turner Broadcasting was in violation of federal antitrust laws.
"From what we've seen of the decision, we do expect to have college football on television in the fall," said Neal Pilson, president of CBS Sports. But Pilson couldn't say whether CBS would be broadcasting the NCAA package as it now exists or making other arrangements.
Tom Merritt, a spokesman for NBC, said there were no plans yet to resurrect NBC's aborted $180 million television package with the CFA that drew strong opposition from the NCAA in the summer of 1981. Beyond that, Merritt said NBC would have no comment.
Dennis Cryder, the NCAA's associate television program director, said in a statement, "We continue to believe television protection and limitation are necessary for the welfare of intercollegiate football and for maintaining that activity appropriately within the structure of higher education. We will continue our efforts to maintain the validity of the NCAA television plan."
Throughout the collegiate athletic community, there remained a degree of confusion as to the decision's precise meaning. But Philip R. Hochberg, a lawyer for the CFA, said it appeared certain that it meant that individual colleges, the CFA, and probably individual athletic conferences, could negotiate their own television packages.
Charles M. Neinas, executive director of the CFA, an organization of 60 college football powers, said it might not be too late for his members to assemble a television package for next fall.
"We've developed certain contingency plans. I hope we would be able to develop something that would satisfy our members and be within the law," Neinas said. He said the plan would be presented to member schools at the CFA's annual meeting next month.
Any package put together by the CFA would be certain to affect the existing NCAA package, since the networks involved in the NCAA package would not be getting the top-ranked teams they had paid for. The CFA includes most of the nation's top athletic conferences.
Thursday's decision, by a three-judge panel, affirmed a ruling last fall by U.S. District Judge Juan C. Burciaga that the NCAA television package violated federal antitrust laws. That case was brought by the universities of Georgia and Oklahoma who contended that they, not the NCAA, were entitled to television rights of their own football games.
Following Burciaga's decision last fall, the NCAA won an order stopping it from going into effect pending an appeal, and legal sources said yesterday it appeared possible that order might be continued pending further appeals.
"I'm pleased with the decision," Vince Dooley, director of athletics at Georgia, told the AP. "But I hope the present (NCAA) TV contract will remain in effect through this year. Otherwise, I believe it would create a chaotic situation coming this late." The current NCAA television package this fall enters the second year of a four-year contract