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May 4, 2011 6:50 PM

The Score: Proskauer Handles Mammoth TV Deal for Pac-10, Justice Looks at BCS

Posted by Brian Baxter

In what is reportedly the biggest television contract struck by a college sports league, the Pac-10 Conference has agreed to a 12-year, $3 billion deal with Walt Disney Corp.'s ESPN and News Corp.'s Fox network.

The Associated Press reports that the contract is worth about $250 million per year. That would guarantee each of the Pac-10's 12 schools about $21 million once the contract kicks in for the 2012–13 season, a person familiar with the deal told The AP.

Joseph Leccese, the cohead of the sports law group at Proskauer Rose, is leading a team from the firm advising the Pac-10 on the deal. The firm's team includes sports law and litigation cohead Bradley Ruskin, corporate partner Jon Oram, and associate Frank Saviano. Leccese, who was elected Proskauer's youngest-ever chairman in October, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Proskauer values the agreement with ESPN and Fox at $3 billion, which is about four times more per year than the $60 million the Pac-10 received from both networks this year, according to The AP, which notes that the rights to some football and men's basketball games were not sold to Fox and ESPN so they can be used for a separate Pac-12 network. (The Pac-10 will be renamed the Pac-12 in July after the universities of Utah and Colorado join the conference.)

ESPN and Fox both turned to teams of in-house lawyers to finalize various aspects of the deal--Bloomberg and The New York Times have more on the agreement. Increased interest in college sports, coupled with a recovering economy, is spawning a flurry of collegiate dealmaking.

In January, ESPN and the University of Texas inked a $300 million deal that will allow one of the wealthiest collegiate athletic programs in the country to have its own 24-hour television network. Several firms advised on that deal, according to our previous reports.

A year ago, the NCAA turned to Charlotte-based Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson for counsel on a $10.8 billion television contract with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for rights to its annual men's college basketball tournament. But it's the playoff system popularized by March Madness that has the NCAA potentially in hot water with antitrust regulators.

The National Law Journal, a sibling publication, reports that the Justice Department asked the NCAA on Wednesday why it does not use a playoff system to determine a national champion in football. Christine Varney, a former Hogan & Hartson partner now serving as assistant U.S. attorney general for antitrust, sent a two-page letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert asking for his organization's views on several topics associated with the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

As previously noted by The Am Law Daily, critics of the BCS, such as Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff, claim the system unfairly prevents the teams of smaller football schools from competing for a shot at the national championship. Shurtleff has posited the legal theory that the BCS violates federal antitrust laws by restricting access to certain schools, such as his home state University of Utah Utes, who were left out of the 2008 national title game despite going undefeated in the regular season.

Last month Shurtleff, a Republican, put out a request for proposals from major law firms looking to represent his state in an antitrust suit against the BCS. A group of 21 law and economics professors then sent a letter to the Justice Department asking it to probe the BCS for possible antitrust violations. (Click here for a copy of that letter, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.)

But while the BCS might be unpopular, even with the likes of President Barack Obama, some legal analysts believe the system is unlikely to be found illegal, according to this December 2010 column by SI.com's Michael McCann. The BCS also has other legal troubles it must worry about.

The Am Law Daily reported in March on the release of a 276-report put together by Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi that resulted in the firing of John Junker, a former CEO of the Fiesta Bowl, a BCS bowl game based in Phoenix. College bowl games operate as tax-exempt charities, but Junker was found to have engaged in financial improprieties such as illicit campaign contributions and reimbursements that violated the Fiesta Bowl's tax-exempt status.

Corporate Counsel, a sibling publication, reported on Monday that the Fiesta Bowl had fired its general counsel, top executives, and outside counsel at Snell & Wilmer as a result of the scathing report.

Nathan Hochman, a former federal prosecutor and current partner in the Santa Monica office of Bingham McCutchen, has been named interim general counsel for the Fiesta Bowl. Bingham will also replace Snell & Wilmer as the organization's outside counsel, Corporate Counsel reports. The BCS is reportedly considering a range of possibilities for the future of the Fiesta Bowl.

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