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Antitrust cases could blow up college system


Back when the effort to unionize Northwestern captured headlines and sparked debates regarding whether college players should or shouldn’t be paid, a much more important effort to change the system through litigation was beginning to percolate.

Eventually, it could boil.

As recently explained by Liz Mullen and Michael Smith of SportsBusiness Journal, the folks who run college sports programs have far greater concerns about pending antitrust litigation than they do about the unionization push or the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit regarding the use of player likenesses without compensation.

“We’ll look back on O’Bannon [player image use] and the attempts at unionization as insignificant,” Notre Dame A.D. Jack Swarbrick recently said at a convention in Orlando. As to the antitrust lawsuits, Swarbrick said, “That’ll be the game-changer.”

The effort to change the game comes from an argument that the placement by the NCAA of limits on what players can be given violates antitrust laws.

“Our case is designed to remove the restrictions from men’s basketball and football in Division I in all the schools so they can enjoy a free market to make their own decisions about compensation issues,” Kessler told Mullen and Smith.

In other words, schools wouldn’t be allowed to continue to hide behind the tuition/room/board routine, which makes labor much more affordable than if colleges were competing with each other not by putting the right words in a recruit’s ear but the right number of dollars in his pocket.

Ultimately, it would force a redistribution of the massive revenues generated by college programs in a way that would trim the fat that currently goes to coaches and administrators and pretty much everyone but the people directly responsible for ticket sales and rights fees. And while the game would surely change, the games even more surely wouldn’t end. And the new system would be far more fair to the kids who are providing the services for which fans and networks are paying big money.

And we continue to mention this from time to time because massive changes to the NFL’s free farm system will have an impact on the NFL. Which would ultimately result in the NFL creating its own farm system.