Power conferences gear up to battle antitrust suit, other legal threats

More: Dodd: BCS elbowing out little guys | Emmert: Union 'inappropriate'

The commissioners of the power five conferences met in Chicago recently with a team of lawyers to discuss a recent antitrust lawsuit filed against those leagues, several persons with knowledge of the meeting told CBSSports.com.

Those commissioners see as a major threat to the basic NCAA model of amateurism a suit filed by high-profile attorney Jeffrey Kessler. The suit argues that limiting player compensation is “price fixing” and should be considered a violation of anti-trust laws.

If players were to be paid market value, they would be no different than head coaches who negotiate multi-million dollar salaries. Current NCAA reforms only include a possible inclusion of a cost of attendance component above the value of a scholarship.

The NCAA is listed as a defendant along with the Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Big 12. The suit was filed March 17.

Little else is known about the Chicago meeting except the commissioners' mounting concern over several legal battles that threaten the NCAA model.

The meeting took place approximately 10 days ago and included a team of at least 15 attorneys. The group of commissioners included Jim Delany of the Big Ten, Bob Bowlsby of the Big 12, John Swofford of the ACC, Mike Slive of the SEC and Larry Scott of the Pac-12.

Those commissioners and leagues control more than 70 percent of the revenue produced by the College Football Playoff that kicks off this upcoming season.

A similar class-action lawsuit filed by a former West Virginia running back alleges the NCAA illegally caps the value of an athletic scholarship.

Kessler is a partner in one of the most powerful antitrust firms in the country. Kessler was the primary attorney 22 years ago in the Freeman McNeil trial that won free agency rights for NFL players.

Kessler partner David Feher spoke to CBSSports.com last month: “The NCAA for years claimed they could stand behind a shield of amateurism. That defense now is complete fiction. That has been contradicted by the billion-dollar contracts that have been signed. The NCAA doesn't have the fig leaf they used to stand behind.”

Several of the changes demanded in recent lawsuits against the NCAA and the unionization movement are contained in upcoming reforms. President Mark Emmert was asked if the NCAA can get those reforms in place before a court intervenes.

“I think you're right in that we need to move quickly,” Emmert said. "I mean, it's time to act."

At a Saturday Final Four brunch, Emmert told a group of commissioners that the threats posed by the legal challenges are "real," according to a source.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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