After the Maryland-Vanderbilt football game is telecast by ABC Saturday and Maryland-West Virginia is aired by Turner cable the next Saturday night, the Terrapins will have generated more than $580,000 for participating in two network telecasts.
Yet it represents only a small part of the $74 million CBS, ABC and Turner are paying for the right to televise 89 college football games this season, not including the postseason bowls. Thus, in two years, rights fees have more than doubled for the NCAA package for which ABC paid $31 million in 1981. Ten years ago, the rights fees were $13.5 million.
Maryland keeps only 4/11ths of the $580,000, sharing the rest with Atlantic Coast Conference members (Clemson, on NCAA and conference probation does not share in television revenues this season and next). "I couldn't be more pleased for two reasons," said Dick Dull, Maryland's athletic director. "I have a chance to make twice as much as two years ago. And we weren't on TV two years ago."
But all is not calm in the television football game. The manner in which the television-rights pie is sliced has brought the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is being asked to overturn two lower court decisions that the NCAA Television Plan violates federal antitrust law. Only a stay issued by Justice Byron White, until the Supreme Court reconvenes in October and decides whether to hear the case, has kept the plan valid.
The NCAA people will tell you elimination of the football plan will cause chaos and a reduction in rights fees; Georgia and Oklahoma, the two football powers that sued the NCAA, say the free enterprise system should prevail; the television networks say that there is no more money to pay for rights fee, because televising college football is a loss leader already.
West Virginia, 63 miles south of Pittsburgh, has no television market to call its own. The Maryland game will be its first appearance on a national telecast; it has been on six regional telecasts.
Says Tom Shupe, associate athletic director and the athletic department's representative to the College Football Association: "We would suffer as much as most (without a plan). We couldn't put together our own (and make money on it). One regional appearance to us is a reasonable shot in the arm that can help us through a season, not totally, of course, but it would help. It's critical that we be included in any plan that comes about. That wouldn't be the case for a Penn State, Pitt or Notre Dame. Their street is paved with gold any way you put it."
Such a happy medium probably will be reached, governed not by the College Football Association nor by the NCAA, but by what is now known as The Coalition, a federation concept of CFA members plus The Big Ten and Pacific-10 conferences, the only major football leagues that did not join the CFA. Membership would be voluntary, a key element of the current litigation, and The Coalition, whose leadership includes pivotal Notre Dame, would contract with the NCAA to administer its plan.
There would be three time slots on Saturday, with one set aside for conferences and independents to make their own deals, somewhat as now exists in regular-season basketball. Thus the networks would be protected for their regional and national telecasts, but many more schools would get at least some regional exposure.
In the 30 years of NCAA television plans, there are 24 schools that average one appearance annually on a national or regional telecast. There are 82 Division I schools who have had fewer than five appearances during the plan's existence.
"I keep hearing about all this choas," said Russ Potts, president of Sports Productions Inc., a Dallas-based syndicator who puts together the Turner package. "I bet Washington State (one national appearance, 16 regionals in 30 years) would love that chaos. Are they better being on seven stations sharing $25,000, or not being on?"
Last year when the three network contracts were worth $66.4 million, the major football schools (Division I-A) got slightly more than $54 million, or more than 83 percent of the pie. Division I-AA schools got $6.9 million, almost 8 1/2 percent; the Division II and III schools got $710,000, or 1.1 percent, and 7 percent went to the NCAA, for administrative and other expenses in running the national championship playoffs in the three lower divisions.
By contract under the plan, the networks must have a minimum number of appearances by teams in Divisions I-AA, II and III. Using contract minimums, the major schools this year will receive $63.3 million in appearance fees, incentive fees to change dates and in subsidy for lights for night games. That's 85.6 percent of the tie.
ABC and CBS, in the second year of a four-year contract worth $263.5 million, each are paying $32 million in rights fees this season; Turner, in the second year of a two-year contract, is paying $10,288,000.
This year ABC is paying $1.2 million ($600,000 to each team) for each of its eight national telecasts and adding another $250,000 to each of four games in which the teams changed the date for television. A regional game will be worth about $664,400, according to the network.
CBS does not reveal contract figures. but Len DeLuca, a CBS Sports official, says the network considers college football a regional sport and therefore that network pays more than ABC for regional games and less for national telecasts. It also does not pay a fixed price, according to DeLuca. For instance, Clemson received $550,000 for its national game against Georgia last season, but North Carolina received only $530,000, according to an ACC source.
Turner, whose two-year contract expires this year, will pay slightly more than $500,000 per game.