Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White cleared the way yesterday for the National Collegiate Athletic Association to control television rights for college football games at least until October.
White continued, at least until the Supreme Court reconvenes in the fall, an order staying a decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that held the NCAA's control of college football telecasts to be a violation of federal antitrust laws.
Should the court agree to hear the NCAA's appeal of that decision, the stay will continue in effect until there is a final ruling by the Supreme Court. If the court refuses to hear the case, White's stay will be dissolved immediately. But Clyde Muchmore of Oklahoma City, one of the lawyers who challenged the NCAA's position, said "as a practical matter, that's it for the 1983 season."
Network television spokesmen said the ruling means they will go ahead with previously planned telecasts of college football games this fall, including a Turner Broadcasting telecast of a Maryland-West Virginia game scheduled for the night of Sept. 17. "We're looking forward to the season now that the uncertainties have been resolved," said Jay Rosenstein, a spokesman for CBS.
John Toner, the president of the NCAA, said in a prepared statement released through NCAA headquarters in Kansas: "We are absolutely delighted. The stay works to the benefit of virtually all football playing members of the NCAA who clearly want the continuation of national control."
At issue in the case are contracts totaling $263.5 million between the NCAA and CBS-TV and ABC-TV for the 1982 through 1985 seasons and a $17.7 million contract between the NCAA and Turner Broadcasting for the 1982 and 1983 seasons.
Under NCAA regulations, schools whose games are not telecast under its contracts with the networks are not permitted to make their own television deals, and schools whose games are telecast are not permitted to negotiate independently for additional telecasts.
Contending that the NCAA contracts violated federal antitrust laws by illegally restraining trade, the regents of the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia Athletic Association sued in federal court in Oklahoma to have them voided. The two universities and the College Football Association, an organization of 60 of the nation's top football powers, contended individual schools, not the NCAA, should have the right to negotiate television rights to their football games.
Last fall, U.S. District Judge Juan Burciaga agreed, but stayed his decision from taking effect pending an appeal. A three-judge appeals panel upheld Burciaga's ruling last spring, but it remained unclear whether the decision could take effect until White, a former all-America football player, issued a temporary stay on Saturday.
In his order yesterday, White said "I can say with confidence that I would vote to hear the case . . . somewhat less confidently, I expect that at least three other justices would likewise vote . . ."
White also said he believes "that there is a sufficient likelihood that the court below erred in one or more important respects to justify issuing the stay."
Were he not to issue the stay, White said, "the entire 1983 season would be at risk not only for the NCAA but for many, if not most, of the schools which it represents."
The universities of Georgia and Oklahoma, he said, would lose only the difference between what they will receive as participants in the NCAA television package and what they could have negotiated on their own. However, Andy Coats, an Oklahoma City lawyer who represented the two schools, said each would lose "millions of dollars" because of White's decision.