College football’s conference-realignment carousel has drawn even the interest of Congress, with House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers, D-Mich., on Thursday calling for hearings into any potential antitrust and other legal issues.
In particular, Conyers wants the Judiciary Committee to review the conference realignments' effect on lower-profile sports and independent universities--including the historically black colleges and universities.
In a letter to committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Conyers asks the panel to explore the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s control of athletes’ likenesses in video games and other commercial goods. He also wants the committee to look into the due-process rights of athletes, colleges’ responsibilities in the event of an athlete’s injury or death, and limitations on the duration of athletic scholarships.
Congressional focus on the issue’s effect on lower-profile sports will likely draw the most attention. The scrambling among some top-tier football and basketball programs to join “super conferences” is seen as a good thing by many. It’s a way to create new rivalries, win bigger TV contracts, and perhaps initiate the first step toward a national playoff system in football. But with all the top programs angling for spots, many also wonder about where that will leave other colleges with less pull.
Conyers writes that representatives of the historically black colleges and other schools say they “’appear to have been relegated to difficult bargaining postures due to the recent [conference] realignments."
“This issue overlaps with antitrust issues involving the so-called Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which both our committee and the Senate Judiciary have considered in recent years, and which is the subject of antitrust review by the Department of Justice,” Conyers said.
Conyers acknowledged in his letter that he fully appreciates “the concerns some may raise concerning our committee devoting a portion of its time to these issues.” But he notes that “modern-day college athletics is a massive business, with widespread economic impact on athletes, their families, broadcasters and fans, as well as universities and colleges all over the country.”
And Conyers notes that there is already “a significant public record of concern regarding the impact of finances on college sports,” pointing specifically to three reports from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. That commission was formed in response to several highly visible scandals in college sports.
The latest of those Knight Commission reports, he says, concluded: “The pursuit of television contracts and slots in football bowl games, together with the quest to win championship tournaments in basketball, have had a destabilizing influence on athletics programs…. This model could lead to a loss of credibility not just for intercollegiate sports but for higher education itself.”
“Today, I believe, the time is ripe for our committee to again take the lead when no other entity appears to have the authority or standing to act to protect the interests of athletes, their families, smaller colleges, and [historical black colleges],” Conyers writes.
Smith’s office acknowledged receiving the letter but did not say if he will convene a hearing in response.
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