The showcasing on television of intercollegiate football now will have to conform to the American tradition of free enterprise, the result of a June 27 US Supreme Court decision that surely was inevitable.
Though the National Collegiate Athletic Association lost, it had a laudable goal: to keep some three-score college football powerhouses from dominating the multimillion-dollar TV market and to protect attendance at college games across the nation. The motivation behind the suit by two major universities on behalf of some 60 others in the College Football Association may not have been so praiseworthy.
But there is no denying that the opinion Associate Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the 7-to-2 majority is good law. The NCAA's system and its agreements with the ABC and CBS networks was clearly an ''unreasonable restraint of trade'' that was, under the Sherman Antitrust Act, counter to consumer welfare.
How the televising of college football will be reorganized in zt9 mN hPe ruling remains to be seen. With all the outlets now available, including cable, the proliferation of football games on TV may be on the order of that in college basketball (unregulated by the NCAA). Many observers say neither the fans nor the college programs have been well served in that instance.
And thae brings us to another statement in the Stevens opinion: ''The NCAA plays a critical role in the maintenance of a revered tradition of amateurism in college sports . . . (and) the preservation of the student-athlete in higher education . . . .''
Whatever the result of the TV decision, that particular problem is only the tip of an iceberg confronting intercollegiate athletics, including: exploitation of young men and women who often wind up without college degrees or the longed-for careers in professional sports, the presence on many campuses of ''student-athletes'' who in reality are not students at all, recruiting practices that can only be described as corrupt and corrupting, under-the-table payments to college athletes, and more.
NCAA efforts to punish offenders and remedy some of these situations have been ineffective. An attempt last fall within the NCAA to impose realistic academic standards on athletes was thwarted.
Obviously, college sports cannot return to the ''good old days'' before TV and the lure of fat pro contracts. But there must be some way, short of government interference, to restore balance and integrity to both the playing and the televising of intercollegiate sports.
The increasing dissatisfaction among academicians, media sports specialists, students, and fans may some day become a reform movement.