TV, monopoly, and college sports
THERE'S a suit in the US Supreme Court that will influence which college football games are televised nationally. But the suit's not really about football: It's about power and money.
Two universities, Oklahoma and Georgia, are suing the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NCAA has established and enforces stringent rules that limit the number of times a college can have its games telecast nationally - no more than six times in two years. The universities say this restriction violates federal antitrust laws. The NCAA denies this charge.
Having a football game telecast nationally can be a financial bonanza to a college, bringing in as much as $600,000 a contest; on many campuses football subsidizes money-losing sports. And if a team plays well it enhances the status of the school's athletic program and makes future athletic recruiting easier. Football powers want to make their own deals with TV networks, to have more contests televised and thus take in more money.
Thus far two federal courts have sided with the universities. So has the Reagan administration in arguments before the United States Supreme Court last week.
It is hard to be very sympathetic to the NCAA. It long has been known for autocratic practices - and, for years, a bias in favor of men's athletics and against women's sports. Thus it is hard to see why it deserves to be the colleges' sole negotiating agent with TV networks.
Yet there is justifiable concern as to the long-term effect on colleges should Oklahoma and Georgia win. At too many universities sports - particularly football - already occupies a place all out of proportion to its proper role on campus.
Football, played by academically qualified students, ought to be one ''fun'' part of college life. But it should not be so dominant that academically unqualified athletics are matriculated for the purpose of providing a good team, or that athletes are used to produce winning teams, then discarded without diploma. At too many schools both perversions of proper values already exist.
If universities win the right to make their own deals with television, their teams will face yet more pressure to win. Viewers want to see skilled and winning teams, and those are the ones that networks will sign up. It would take enormous forebearance for universities to withstand these pressures and instead restrict football - and other sports - to their proper, limited role on campus.