Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post What June 27, 1984 meant to college football

Tuesday June 28, 2011

June 27, 1984 was a great day for the college football fan.

We should have noted this yesterday, but June 27th is the anniversary of a pivotal date in college football history. Thanks to the fine folks who maintain the “This Day in Georgia History” site, we’re reminded that on June 27, 1984 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled

that individual colleges and conferences are free to negotiate their own TV package deals. This ruling was the culmination of a lawsuit filed jointly by the University of Georgia and the University of Oklahoma on behalf of the new College Football Association (CFA), which was created to promote the interests of the major college football powers in the NCAA.

The decision opened the door for college football as we know it. The CFA is long gone, but it was a stepping stone to the current television landscape. By the mid-1990s, individual conferences realized they no longer needed the collective power of the CFA and began to negotiate their own deals. Now even individual schools are negotiating their own broadcast rights and television networks.

It’s hard to imagine college football had this decision gone the other way. If you think there’s too much money in college sports, this decision is probably bittersweet because it opened the door. There would still be plenty of money; just look at the broadcast rights for the NCAA-controlled basketball tournament. But the freedom recognized in 1984 led to a wide-open market where conferences are able to act in their own interest and out-do each other with each subsequent network deal. It’s also led to national exposure for mid-majors and other small programs who are able to find their own niches between the huge deals of the power conferences.

We’ve gone from being lucky to have three televised Georgia games a year to it making news when a game won’t be televised. We’ve gone from a precious few national broadcasts to countless national and regional options on all days of the week. College football is now a much more national game. Outside of seeing teams on their own schedule, fans would only see a select few national powers, and you can probably guess from which part of the country. Now fans are exposed to teams across the country, and we can all be a little more intelligent about the relative merits of our teams (to a point – SEC! SEC! ESSEECCEEEE!).

This explosion of national exposure is also behind a few other trends in college sports. Conference re-alignment is one. Since you can get the broadcast of almost any football game anywhere in the nation now, having geography for the basis of a conference matters less. Those who follow their teams on the road will disagree, but otherwise why not TCU in the Big East or Colorado to the Pac 10? Fans will still be able to watch. Conference ties can be made on the basis of business sense rather than geographic convenience or regional identity.

There’s also the talk behind a playoff. Winning a major conference was fine when that’s all you saw plus a handful of other games on TV. If you wanted, you could play your bowl and maybe even claim a share of some national title. Now, with broadcasts blurring the regional boundaries of conferences, the discussion is a national one. Fans want to make more sense out of where their team fits in outside of their conference and region with the teams they’re able to see in dozens of other games each week.

There is of course a bit of irony: the game and discussion is more national, but the power and money is still concentrated at the conference level thanks to the 1984 decision. The conferences aren’t going to reverse course just to satisfy the desire for some sort of improved resolution at a national level. But remember that the identities of conferences are changing all the time. We’re seeing fault lines not only at the BCA/non-BCS split but even higher up where the ability to turn a profit from college athletics lies with only about 20 schools. Would a playoff matter at all if all of the biggest and best programs are all in a handful of conferences in a league of their own?

Comments are closed.