Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Journalism (MA)

Degree Level





Dale Carpenter

Committee Member

Steve Dittmore

Second Committee Member

Larry Foley


Social science, Communication and the arts, Southeastern Conference, Southwest Conference, University of Arkansas


The era of realignment within the conferences that make up the largest football-playing division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association can be traced to one event.

In the 1984 Supreme Court case NCAA v. Board of Regents, the court ruled the NCAA had violated antitrust laws by not allowing individual colleges to negotiate their own TV contracts for football games. The decision nulled and voided existing TV contracts with the NCAA, allowing a free market for colleges. Many programs partnered with the College Football Association to negotiate TV contracts in the 1980s and early ‘90s.

Five years after the Supreme Court ruled, major conferences began to expand to become more appealing to TV networks. By adding more colleges, a conference was able to expand its geographical footprint to include more large media markets. In turn, it could request higher payments from networks that wished to televise football games and other sporting events.

In 1990, the Southeastern Conference added Arkansas as its first new member since the Great Depression. In joining the Southeastern Conference, Arkansas broke a 76-year partnership with the Southwest Conference, a league that had fallen from past prominence after years of scandal and declining attendance.

Arkansas became the first college program in the modern era to leave one major conference for another. Over the next quarter-century, the financial success for Arkansas and the Southeastern Conference paved the way for several more notable college programs and conferences to make similar moves.

This paper will analyze the events that led up to the start of conference realignment and how the profitability of football has had a positive impact on universities’ academic profiles.

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