Conference realignment has hit a wall. Whether that's good news or bad depends on your side of the aisle, but either way, it is news.
After the musical chairs of the last three years, a little stability goes a long way. And now we might have a lot of stability.
Atlantic Coast Conference members have signed the grant of rights, which binds each school's television money to the conference, even if said school bolts for limier pastures.
With the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 already having bolted such handcuffs, the ACC was the prime recruiting ground for prospects. The Big Ten grabbed Maryland. The Big 12 lusted after Florida State and Clemson. North Carolina and Virginia or Virginia Tech at least fit SEC parameters.
Now, if you want to expand, your choices are:
1. Raid the SEC. Good luck with that, though anyone interested ought to at least call miscast Missouri.
2. Get a school on the outside looking in. Connecticut, Boise State, Cincinnati, BYU.
3. Do it the American way. Take the conference to court. Try to get out of the grant of rights.
Truth is, universities (and their coaches) pay little attention to contracts and commitments. It's on the athletes to uphold some honor.
Maryland, for example, in 2012 voted to make the ACC exit penalty $52 million. Now the Terrapins are suing to get out of such a payment.
Which leads us to grant of rights. Is it binding? Will it hold up in court? If OU wanted to bolt for the SEC, or Kansas wanted to join the Big Ten, or Texas changed its mind about the Pac-12, would the grant of rights stick?
Instead of asking an administrator, I asked a lawyer. And not just any lawyer.
I asked Kent Meyers. Meyers is a longtime OKC attorney who is an expert in antitrust law and who 30 years ago was part of the legal team that successfully sued the NCAA over television rights. The famous Oklahoma/Georgia case, which stripped the NCAA of owning schools' television rights.
And Meyers says grant of rights should be solid.
“The grant of the rights is absolutely binding if it was papered up properly at the time,” Meyers said.
In other words, if the correct language was used and agreement was correctly received.
Meyers' opinion is grounded in history. In 1984, when the landmark TV case was settled, many schools, through their conference, gave their television rights to the College Football Association.
“That was attacked by some independent television networks by form of more antitrust problems, in a different wrapper,” Meyers said. “It came back to the same trial judge, he said, ‘You're missing the point. This is exactly the kind of plan that would be formed and is OK.'”
Meyers' theory: schools own their television rights. If they cede them to a conference, the conference becomes the owner.
“There may be escape provisions in the agreement,” Meyers said. Exit fees, for example. “But if there isn't such an escape provision, then they're bound for the length of the assignment. If it was five years, they're bound for five years.”
Meyers said grant of rights offers no antitrust problems. He's long pointed out that antitrust laws exist to protect consumers. If consumers aren't harmed financially, no antitrust problems exist.
Hard to imagine how consumers are harmed financially if conference realignment halts.
One major difference between the CFA and the current grant of rights. The CFA had no desire to restrict a school. If a school or a league wanted out, the CFA didn't mind. The CFA existed only to get ballgames on television, which no longer is an issue and one reason why the CFA no longer exists.
The current grant of rights clearly exists to bind schools to leagues.
But Meyers says that makes it no less legal.
It seems simple. Sign away your TV rights until 2020, or 2025, and you can't get them back.
“If I say, I'm assigning my rights to something for five years, by God, it's gone for five years,” Meyers said. “You're not oversimplifying it. It is that simple.”
Which could mean the music has stopped.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.