CHICAGO -- A recent federal appeals court decision has reignited the debate over whether the NCAA is big business or the guardian of amateur athletics.
Critics see college sports as a multimillion-dollar industry that ought to comply with federal antitrust law and other business regulations.
Its defenders admit that college sports has business and entertainment aspects, but say NCAA members don't have the same profit-oriented goals as major corporations.
Fuel was added to the debate when a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago rejected a plea by former Notre Dame running back Braxston Banks, who alleged that two NCAA rules violated antitrust law. Banks lost his final year of college eligibility when he opted to make himself available for the 1990 pro football draft.
NCAA rules require college athletes to give up any remaining eligibility if they elect to participate in a draft or retain a sports agent.
Although the appeals court panel ruled 2-1 in favor of the NCAA, a strongly worded dissent by Judge Joel Flaum encourages those who think the organization should comply with antitrust guidelines.
Antitrust law is intended to protect consumers of a product as well as employees of an industry. The law's latter purpose was at issue in Banks' appeal.
The appeals court majority upheld a ruling by a U.S. district court judge in South Bend, Ind., who dismissed Banks' claims without a full trial.
Flaum wrote that Banks ought to at least have had his day in court because the no-draft rule tended to restrict competition for football players.
"The no-draft rule ... is anti-competitive because it constitutes an agreement among colleges to eliminate an element of competition in the college football labor market.