Meet the Man Who Transformed College Football

Meet the Man Who Transformed College Football: A Reflection on Andrew Coats’ Impact

College Football

In the realm of college football, one name stands out as a catalyst for seismic changes that have shaped the landscape of the sport. Andrew Coats, the legal mind behind a landmark Supreme Court victory in 1984, holds a unique position in the history of American athletics. The case he argued, NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, set in motion a series of events that redefined the nature of college football, steering it towards commercialization and unprecedented transformation.

The Supreme Court Victory that Altered College Football

The Turning Point

In 1984, Andrew Coats successfully convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of his clients, thus allowing universities to maximize their revenue from college football. The court’s decision marked a turning point in the history of collegiate sports, unleashing a cascade of changes that would forever reshape the landscape.

Regret and Reflection

Despite the profound impact of his legal victory, Coats now looks back with a sense of regret. In a recent interview with NBC News, he candidly admitted, “I think I screwed up college football across the board, because I think the case did it.” This confession offers a glimpse into the unforeseen consequences that followed the court’s ruling.

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The Unintended Consequences: From Stability to Chaos

The TV-Driven Money Grab

Coats’ legal victory ushered in an era of television-driven revenue generation for universities. This led to a rush for more lucrative TV contracts, triggering a whirlwind of changes in conference affiliations. The once-stable college football landscape transformed into a constant shuffle of teams seeking the best financial opportunities.

The Collapse of Traditional Conferences

Traditionally robust conferences, like the Pac-12, now face unprecedented challenges. The Pac-12, boasting a rich 108-year history, finds itself reduced to a mere four schools, highlighting the extent of the upheaval.

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The Toll on Student-Athletes

A Harsh Reality

While financial gains have been significant, student-athletes have shouldered the burden. The proliferation of long-distance travel has become the norm, as routine games now require exhausting cross-country journeys. Student-athletes in non-revenue and Olympic sports bear the brunt of this new reality.

Voices of Discontent

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick laments the shift, describing it as a “complete disaster.” He emphasizes that decision-making should prioritize the well-being of student-athletes, suggesting a return to more regional scheduling.

The Student-Athlete’s Perspective

Student-athletes like Oregon softball player Paige Sinicki have spoken out against the dramatic changes. Sinicki expressed frustration at having to play games far from home, a circumstance she didn’t anticipate when committing to her college.

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Unforeseen Realignment: A Dire Situation

Neglecting Non-Revenue Sports

The realignment’s impact isn’t limited to football and basketball; it affects athletes across various disciplines. Voices like Marshall University announcer Ben Westfall’s underscore the lack of consideration for athletes in non-revenue sports who now face extensive travel.

The Legacy of Coats’ Decision

Coats’ legal victory laid the groundwork for continuous football broadcasting and conference realignment. The focus shifted from geographical considerations to marketability, leading to a chaotic web of new alignments.

Rewriting the Geographical Landscape

The Annihilation of Geography

Before Coats’ case, football games on TV were a rarity, with only a handful of annual matchups being televised. The landmark decision changed this paradigm, making nearly all games accessible for viewers. The concept of geographical constraints was effectively obliterated.

The Paradox of Marketability

TV networks’ emphasis on big-name teams, irrespective of their location, has prompted conferences to make alignment decisions that prioritize marketability over geographical logic. This paradoxical approach has led to a reshuffling of teams across the country.

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A Glimpse into the Future

The Unpredictable Path Ahead

As college football enthusiasts anticipate the upcoming season, the impact of Coats’ decision remains palpable. The 2023-24 FBS season is a testament to the far-reaching effects, with games being streamed and televised more comprehensively than ever before.

A Sobering Reality

In the quest for financial gain, college football has undergone a remarkable transformation. Andrew Coats’ legal triumph, while enabling revenue growth, also initiated a journey fraught with unintended consequences and difficult choices.


Andrew Coats’ pivotal role in the Supreme Court case reverberates through the annals of college football history. The legacy of his legal victory is a mix of triumph and remorse, as the sport grapples with the implications of TV-driven commercialization and conference realignment. The journey from stability to chaos underscores the delicate balance between financial aspirations and the welfare of student-athletes.


Who is Andrew Coats?

Andrew Coats is a lawyer who achieved a landmark Supreme Court victory in 1984, allowing universities to maximize revenue from college football.

How did Coats’ legal victory impact college football?

Coats’ victory led to a TV-driven money grab, causing universities to seek lucrative TV contracts and triggering widespread conference realignment.

What are the consequences for student-athletes?

Student-athletes now face extensive cross-country travel for routine games, affecting their well-being and college experience.

How has the landscape of college football changed post-Coats’ case?

The geographical considerations have given way to marketability, resulting in a reshuffling of teams and a departure from traditional conference structures.

What is the overall legacy of Coats’ decision?

While enabling revenue growth, Coats’ decision also brought unintended chaos to college football, raising questions about the balance between financial gain and student-athlete welfare.

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