The New Fine Print: Strategic Questions for Schools to Consider when Navigating Game Contracts in the NIL-House Era

Matt Banker

Author: Matt Banker

POST DATE: 7.9.24
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Getting nervous about that draft game contract or multi-team event (MTE) offer sitting on your desk?

You’re not alone.

Asking yourself ‘what am I missing here?’ is becoming a more common refrain around game contracts in college sports. Game contracts have been a core instrument for college athletics operations for decades. But we know today’s college sports rocket ship has gravitated to a more commercial galaxy.

Athletic departments and university generals counsel (GCs) -- especially at Division I institutions -- are facing unprecedented asks, realities, and wrinkles in game contracts, MTE offers and other sport event agreements. Not surprisingly these novelties are especially popular in game contracts tied to men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and football.

After living off boiler-plate game-contract provisions for decades, things aren’t so simple anymore.

The advent of NIL, the evolving economic interests and rights of student-athletes, the pending House terms hovering in the distance, and the dynamic broadcast rights landscape are more tangible than ever. These factors present new dimensions to game contracts and MTE agreements that athletic directors, GCs, risk managers, and sport administrators haven’t seen before.

Adding to the industry transformations are the increasing appetites of enterprising third-party event operators and hosts running neutral site games and MTEs -- some of them new to college sports and event operations altogether. Plainly stated, today’s game contract and MTE agreement can be the playground for a rights land-grab by third-party event operators and hosts. Universities and athletic departments need to be careful how the modern game-contract landscape can increase two things -- costs and risks.

Even standard, non-conference game contracts between two universities cannot be microwaved with the same rinse-and-repeat agreements anymore. There are fresh risks afoot.

The CCHA Sports Law group continues advising universities and their athletic departments on game contracts, MTE agreement offers, and other athletic event agreements with a focus on effectively navigating legal minefields and identifying potential hidden costs, potential cost savings, and innovative revenue generation ideas that are hyper-important in 2024.

Below are some initial considerations the CCHA Sports Law group has identified for senior athletic department administrators and university GCs to have top of mind when reviewing the latest game contract, MTE agreement, and the like:

  • How does your University avoid dispensing rights in game contracts that it may not have authority to dispense?
  • Is your University giving up too much---legally and financially--- to the event operators?
  • Has your University scrubbed the game contract or MTE agreement for hidden costs the University will absorb?
  • How is your University contemplating changes to NCAA rules, federal laws, or state laws that arise after the ink is dry on the game contract?
  • Will athletic department or university partners be impacted by game contract terms?
  • Is your University appropriately navigating NIL-related distributions, NIL Collective-donations or similar NIL funding offers from third-party event operators or MTE hosts?
  • Might your Athletics Department internal budget and organization reviews (think org charts, travel party and roster sizes, etc) impact what you’re agreeing to in a game contract or MTE agreement?

The above themes and considerations are only a starting point. The beauty, if not sometimes confounding reality, of game contracts is that each comes with distinct flavors, unique terms proposed or even all-out absences of key provisions that should be considered to protect the interests of a university and their athletics department.

Contact CCHA Law to see how we can help you navigate game contracts in college athletics’ evolving landscape.