The Case for Reviving the Four-Year Deal

Even the most avid sports fan may well not realize that the modern athletic scholarship is no longer a ‘four-year deal.” A quiet evolution has occurred and the traditional four-year deal has been consigned to the dust bin in the athletic director's office. The modern athletic scholarship is now a one-year deal, renewable at the sole discretion of the university. The hypothesis of this Essay is that a viable antitrust cause of action exists on behalf of a scholarship recipient whose scholarship is not renewed, either because he or she has disappointed the coach or is no longer able to play due to an injury. The antitrust theory posits that NCAA member schools have agreed to limit athletic scholarships to one-year renewable awards and that this agreement is an unreasonable restraint of trade in violation of section 1 of the Sherman Act. The gist of the claim is that a highly recruited athlete would have been able to negotiate for a two-, three-, or four-year deal had the market not been artificially constrained by the illegal agreement. Abundant case law supports the viability of this theory. This Essay fully examines the theory, which, if successful, would fundamentally alter the way business is conducted in big-time intercollegiate athletics.