Post-season NIT Organizers, NCAA Locked in Antitrust Dispute

Jun 5, 2004

Working its way to the half-court line is yet another antitrust case against the NCAA, this one alleging that the association violates antitrust laws by preventing its member basketball programs that are invited to play in the NCAA Championships from participating in the post-season National Invitational Tournament
The suit is being brought by the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association, which produces the NIT and is owned by New York University, Fordham University, Wagner College, St. Johns University and Manhattan College. MBIA is being represented by the well-known sports antitrust attorney Jeffrey Kessler of New York City-based Dewey Ballantine.
The plaintiff picked up a significant victory on April 15 when a federal judge denied the NCAA’s claim that the statute of limitations had passed on the claim. Specifically, the NCAA claimed that championship commitment rule was passed decades before MBIA filed its claim. MBIA has argued that the republication of the rule each year serves to reintroduce it.
The NCAA has asked the judge to reconsider her decision.
The NCAA has also introduced another argument for public consumption when one of its lawyers, Gregory Curtner, suggested that a MBIA victory would have a negative impact on the game because you could have “shared championships.”
Kessler told Sports Litigation Alert that he doesn’t buy that argument.
“If consumers want there to be one champion, then that’s what will occur,” Kessler said. “The fans will choose, just like they did in the 60’s. But you can’t mandate that result.”
Kessler had no comment on reports of a settlement proposal, which came to light in a story in the NYU student newspaper. In that story, NYU President John Sexton said that MBIA proposed that the NCAA pay MBIA $75 million in damages and that the two groups hold a lottery to split the top 60 teams among the two tournaments for a period of three years.
The NCAA may have been uninterested in a settlement for a reason, according to one observer.
“Even if the plaintiff was able to show that the agreement restrained trade, it would have to show that the rationale for it would not be justifiable in relations to the harms created,” Mark Conrad, an associate professor at Fordham University, told Sports Litigation Alert. “That standard, known as the ‘rule of reason’ standard, basically balanced the two sides. The NCAA would show justification for the exclusivity rule by limiting confusion and disruption that choice would bring, an adverse effect on the public and public interest (particular in ‘March Madness’) and a harmful effect on fan interest.”


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