Bill Huey
Bill Huey

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against the NCAA in a landmark antitrust case that is the college-sports equivalent of the Citizens United ruling, which declared money is the equivalent of political speech and may not be restricted. Here are some likely implications for college sports:

  • A tsunami of money will wash over college athletic programs, leaving the NCAA and its members to figure out what is for “educational benefits.” But they can’t do it in concert, because that would be anti-competitive. Antitrust is antitrust, whether it occurs at the national, regional, or local level.
  • Lawsuits will dominate college athletics for the next 20 years.
  • The rich will get richer, and colleges that pay the most will have the best teams.
  • Student athletes will be making more than most professors.
  • Compared to other students, college athletes will drive better (much better) cars, live in better housing, and eat better, as they do already.
  • Parents will hire agents and other third parties to get the most competitive bids for their sons’ and daughters’ services.
  • College athletics will eventually become contractual, with players signing one-year, two-year and three-year contracts.
  • Unions will appear to represent college athletes.
  • Television networks will have to pay much more for rights to keep up with rising revenues and costs.
  • Smaller, weaker postseason bowl games will disappear. This will generate more lawsuits as teams vie for top bowl spots.
  • Professional recruiting will be affected as well, with teams having to pay more to get athletes to leave their present lucrative contracts.
  • Colleges and universities will have to become much more corporate in their thinking and approach to doing business, much in the same way that medicine has. Thus, the divide between the academic and business sides of higher education will become much greater.

What are the implications for communications? The last item on the list is probably the most significant for communications. Universities will need to staff up and hire top-shelf business communicators. Gone will be the lifer drones who inhabit university communication shops today, or else they will be working with the academic side. Turnover will be high, and pay will be stratospheric compared to today. To this end, athletic departments may have to contribute or else develop their own communications capability to the point where it can compete with the best of the NFL or MLB teams.

It’s going to be a rough and bumpy ride. Winners will be student athletes, their agents and families. Losers will be everybody else.


Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications and the author of Carbon Man (Kindle, 2010).