The Antitrust Bulletin, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Winter 1986), pp. 1003-1044


The Supreme Court's decision in the NCAA case, upholding that the NCAA's mandatory rules controlling the exclusive sale of television rights to intercollegiate football violate section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, is important for several reasons. First, it is among but a few decisions to hold that a restraint of trade although no per se illegal is economically unreasonable under the rule of reason. Second, its implied questions about the goals and relevance of antitrust enforcement coincide with questions about the governmental regulation of business now addressed in law reviews, editorial pages, and by congressional committees. Last, it may resolve warring antitrust ideologies and reaffi9rm economic freedom as an enforcement goal.

The NCAA's Chicago school defense is premised on the idea that government should normally defer to the presumptively efficient decisions of business, especially those that enhance economic integration and cooperation. Because of private economic coercion in the marketplace and economic rivalry in our political system, this idea is flawed. Fortunately, the NCAA decision reaffirms that the Sherman Act was enacted to prohibit the private exercise of economic coercion that undermines economic freedom and diminishes market rivalry.

Thus, the Supreme Court has rejected Chicago's ideological vision for a historical and pragmatic approach that polices business conduct to preserve our competitive free market system, regardless of the short-term efficiency considerations.