Landmark lawsuit reshaped landscape

Vince Dooley's life-size statue emerges as one reaches the Georgia campus by virtue of picturesque Lumpkin Ave. The bronze sculpture features the Hall of Fame coach scaling the shoulders of two unnamed players as they march their leader to glory.

The statue resides in a plaza that commemorates Dooley's impact on the University. Not only did he lead Georgia to six SEC football titles and the 1980 national championship, Dooley also served as athletic director from 1979 to 2004, where he oversaw 78 conference crowns, 23 national championships and over 100 athletes become All-Americans.

His presence isn't as gaping in college athletics as it once was, but he remains an icon in Athens. He is still an avid attendee of all meetings at the Touchdown Club of Athens. He ventures to just about every football game, including those on the road. And he even has an office on campus located in the Rankin M. Smith Student Athlete Academic Center, separate from the football bureau at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.

As the offseason lugs and his age ascends, Dooley reflects on the many accomplishments he shares with the University. The aforementioned championships, the expansion of the athletic program to 19 sports, including many for women, the athletic scholarships and awards he sponsors, and even his brief intention to run for state office.

Dooley is one who appreciates the past as he looks to the future.

When he spoke of the ever-increasing interest in college athletics, he couldn't help but take a deep breath – one that personified the drastic catapult in audiences since his days of coaching.

"It's certainly come a long way," he said.

If it weren't for the NFL and what appears to be an insurmountable grasp, college football would sit on the throne of American sports audiences today.

Fourteen of the top 50 non-NFL sporting events last year were football games played by those at the amateur level. The BCS title game has steadily been the sister to the Super Bowl the last nine years as the second-most watched non-Olympic sporting event. Hundreds of millions watched college football on TV last year across the 14-week season.

There is a trend here and it doesn't appear to be slowing.

With next year's launch of initiatives like the SEC Network and College Football Playoff, the demand will likely grow. Television deals for each have escalated to the multi-billion dollar marks, far surpassing any prior contracts at the college level.

It all brings to the forefront the genesis of college football's television presence, of which Dooley and Georgia were focal figures.

The short-lasted but long-lived CFA

No entity had dared to joust with the NCAA until the College Football Association played David to the governing body's Goliath.

The CFA was founded in 1977 as a platform for major college programs to discuss like issues and solutions among each other – chief among those: the broadcast rights for its athletics. It represented 61 schools with the exception of those in the Big 10 and Pac-10, which avoided registration to form their own packages. Despite their differences, all shared the goal of seceding from the NCAA's television grasp.

NCAA legislature divided all broadcast revenue evenly among its 785 member schools – even those without a football program. It also restricted any program from playing on national TV more than three times per season year and worked to ensure each appeared once – regardless of the ratings drawn.

The quarrels remained vocal yet futile until 1981, when the NCAA's contract with ABC and CBS expired and was in the process of restructuring. Despite numerous notices from the CFA stating it's right to a seat at the table, the NCAA gave a proverbial shrug and renewed a four-year deal worth $263.5 million, and a two-year deal with Turner Broadcasting System worth $17.6 million.

Outraged, the CFA saw the opportunity to finally throw a bone with merit in the fight and negotiated an entirely separate deal for $180 million over four years with NBC.

The NCAA responded less than 24 hours later with threats that extended past football. It broached to expel all sports at any member school whose football team appeared on telecasts not controlled by the governing body.

It was a bold move by the NCAA; one that would risk watering down it's entire existence. The booting of potentially more than half of it's Division I members – those that haul in the most revenue – would've shredded most, if not all, merit held in college athletics.

"I didn't know how it would be perceived history-wise, but it did seem like the beginning of big change in terms of the NCAA as a mega controlling body that had all the power," said Charles Odum, an AP sportswriter who covered the events as a student reporter for The Red & Black. "At the time, it was definitely groundbreaking."

The pact was tentatively approved, thus birthing one of the monumental lawsuits in college athletics.

Georgia stood at the forefront

Former UGA President Fred C. Davison was a busy man during his 20-year tenure.

Under his watch, the University budget tripled, research contracts nearly quadrupled to $27 million, enrollment rose in all but two terms and UGA cracked the Top 50 ranks among the best research universities in the country.

Davison, who passed away in 2004, was also a focal figure of the CFA during the thick of its TV battle. He served as CFA President and Chairman of the Board just after its inception until 1981.

Davison affirmed during the early stages of the proceedings that all CFA schools hoped to maintain their NCAA membership despite the ongoing clash. That outset propelled Davison and the UGA Athletic Association, supplemented by the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, to launch a lawsuit against the governing body.

The goal was to not only ratify the solicitation of their own TV contracts, but also to bar the NCAA from regulating such action or enforcing any penalties for doing so.

"He was so passionate about the standards being firm, and there was just so much indecision about things as I recall," Loran Smith, renowned author and Georgia Sports Hall of Fame member, said. "I think he just felt like there ought to be a standard. He was just willing for Georgia."

But Georgia and Oklahoma stood all but alone. Just as litigation began in the Oklahoma City district court in June of 1982, the CFA – led by Davison's declaration – voted to halt funding of the suit, which at that point had reached $50,000.

Much of the reasoning stemmed from long-term fear of the NCAA by nearly a fifth of the CFA schools. Twelve of the 61 programs told the court they did not wish to participate in the class action, and that Georgia and Oklahoma held a separate stance.

"In the discussions, everybody was concerned but there wasn't but a few that were willing to stick their neck out; those were Georgia and Oklahoma," said Dooley, who held a comparable capacity to Davison as the leader of the CFA coaches.

The two plaintiffs pressed on and went to trial under presiding judge Juan C. Burciaga from June 7 to 15. Burciaga found that the NCAA was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, the legislation that the CFA based its argument, which restricts monopolies from restraint of trade.

For the NCAA, the water began to seep through the ceiling. It took the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which upheld Burciaga's ruling.

The case looked to be on IR before the NCAA received a last-minute stay from Supreme Court Justice Byron White, a former All-American running back at Colorado. White reinstated the NCAA's television control but propelled the case to the Supreme Court, which at the time was in summer recess.

Though frustrated, CFA Executive Director Charles Neinas told its member schools to abide by the NCAA contracts to "maintain orderliness" until the Supreme Court could hear the case. That didn't come until 11 months later in June of 1984 – nearly three years after the saga began.

The Court, led by John Paul Stevens' majority ruling, voted 7-2 that the NCAA violated the antitrust law, thus invalidating its contracts immediately.

Dooley was humbled by the victory, but far from vain. He just wanted what was he "felt was the right thing to do."

"I don't think there was any feeling of arrogance about winning," Dooley, the former Georgia football coach and athletic director, said. "We still had the great respect that we always had for the NCAA in what its mission was beyond just television."

The landmark win shaped the college football television landscape for good, and audiences still witness the reverberations 30 years later.

A complete restructure

Georgia was wary of immediately inking its own deal in the wake of the win. It abided to a three-tier package the CFA formed, starting with national games then moving to conference and regional, intended for the lower level schools that lost the exposure.

Thus began the trickle effect.

Chatter surfaced surrounding a match-up between the two top ranked teams, and the demand had only increased with the weekly increase in top-end exposure. Bowl game selections at the time were selected on an almost political basis, and the national champion was determined by the AP poll regardless of whether the No. 1 and 2 team played in the final game.

"It was really a whole heap different," Claude Felton, Georgia Sports Information Director, said. "The schools would wine and dine the bowl scouts when they would come to town to see the games; the bowls would wine and dine the school administrators. So when it got down to the end of the season, hopefully you could get the team you wanted and the schools, you could take your pick at which bowl game you wanted to go to."

That shifted when the Bowl Coalition was founded in 1992 (later the Bowl Alliance from 1994 to 1997), which formed the official title game between the top ranked teams. Coincidentally, the SEC championship game was established the same year.

Soon other conferences followed and formed their own title games, including the ACC (2005), Big 12 (1996), Big 10 (2011), Conference-USA (2005) and Pac-12 (2011) among others. Most of these contests were broadcast on the respective outlets that each affiliated.

The birth of the Bowl Championship Series shuffled things even further. It created five major bowls and dictated the destination of each major conference champion – Fiesta (Big 12 vs. at large), Orange (Big East vs. ACC), Rose (Pac-10 vs. Big 10), Sugar (SEC vs. at large) and BCS National Championship Game (No. 1 vs. No. 2 regardless of conference).

ABC initially broadcast the BCS bowls before FOX battled in a bidding war that it eventually won with an offer of roughly $100 million for the 2006 to 2009 seasons. But ESPN, a Disney-owned outlet and ABC affiliate, ousted FOX the next go around with a $500 million deal for the 2010 to 2013 seasons – nearly double what FOX offered.

The amount of money dished out to the BCS conferences varied from year to year based on factors such as sponsorship and ticket sales among others. The donations, however, have reached as high as 80 percent of total BCS revenue.

It was good feeding for these top tier schools.

Foreshadowing the future

The CFA's lasting impact was its influence in the landmark lawsuit. Yet it's ascension to victory all but birthed its eventual demise.

Once Notre Dame fused an alliance with NBC in 1991, most conferences followed and drifted from the CFA umbrella. The conference contracts developed then are comparable to those today.

"We all spoke to the importance of unity, including Notre Dame," Dooley said of the CFA outset after the lawsuit. "Then NBC made a deal so lucrative for Notre Dame that they decided to go on their own. I think that was really carrying the CFA as a negotiating tool, was Notre Dame and the SEC. So once Notre Dame when on its way, the SEC decided to go on its own, then you had the domino effect of other conferences negotiating."

"It's all just a continuation of what's been happening," Dooley said.

Yet TV affiliations look like they may no longer the norm. Developing an entire conference network has becoming a progressing trend.

The Mountain West (2006), Big 10 (2007) and Pac-12 (2012) each launched their own broadcast channels solely devoted to their athletics.

The SEC Network will launch this August under ESPN to much anticipation. It will channel round-the-clock sports and related studio programming with an expected 1,000 events in its first year across all 21 SEC-sponsored sports. That includes roughly 45 football games (at least three per week), 100 men's basketball games and 60 women's basketball games among other events.

Content will be distributed via television and online, and feature both live events and recorded streams. ESPN has already struck a deal with AT&T U-Verse to offer the Network, and is negotiations with like distributors Comcast, Time Warner Cable and DirecTV among others. Subscribers to telco providers that offer the Network will also receive a digital pass to access the online content.

"It's going to appeal to people of all ages, including the people we're going to be recruiting," Georgia coach Mark Richt said at the media session for the Network's launch in May. "My guess is there will be content there that will showcase our players, showcase our facilities and showcase our coaching staff and what we've done in recent past and what we want to do in the future. It can only help us."

ESPN sprung on the rights in a 2008 deal worth roughly $2.25 billion, and revised an extension totaling 20 years this spring. Revenue will be evenly divided among the 14 member schools, with each receiving roughly $10 million per year – a 50 percent increase in each program's television take.

Keri Potts, ESPN Senior Director of PR, said that the deal's parameters allow for restructuring in the future. The revisions this spring are an example, which accommodated the SEC addition of Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012.

Potts wouldn't speculate the Network's forecasts for the coming years, but did say that college athletics in particular generate lengthier deals at ESPN.

"We have a history of signing long-term rights agreements in the college space, and recognized the value of live college sports programming early on in our company's history," Potts said of ESPN, which launched its first college football broadcast in 1982, three years after its founding.

"The SEC has a fine history of winning championships and drawing record ratings. We believe the SEC Network is a high value proposition for college sports fans," Potts said.

ESPN also pounced at the College Football Playoff rights for $5.64 billion, worth roughly $470 million a year for the three games – almost what it paid annually for the five BCS bowls. If the NFL provides any indication with its playoff consistently rising in ratings, including new records for the AFC and NFC Championship games in January, the college tournament will likely see an upward trend from its BCS predecessor.

The numbers, financially and in viewership, show that the draw to college football continues to reach an all-time high. Who knows where it would stand had the NCAA won its case 30 years ago and continued to limit coverage – or if no entity had not boldly challenged the institution. Perhaps another program would've eventually risen to the task, but for now, the college football world can look at Georgia as one that sparked it all.

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