NCAA athletes to receive compensation for likeness use in video games

Jamie Squire

EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Corporation have reached a settlement with several player lead groups over the use of player likenesses in video games. The victory for student-athletes adds one more piece to the pending reality that terms of amateurism are about to undergo a big change.

EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Corporation have reached a $40 million settlement with several college athletes for using their likenesses in video games, according to a CBS Sports report filed over the weekend. The athletes' settlement with the video game manufacturer and company that oversees NCAA licensing means that up to 100,000 athletes could receive some level of payout for the use of their likeness. The beneficiaries of the settlement could include several active athletes.

The settlement is monumental since NCAA players will actually receive legal monetary compensation for their on-field performance. NCAA regulations prohibit any form of athlete compensation for anything linked to their likeness. The NCAA continues to insist that the players likenesses were not used since their actual names were left out of the games.

It was only a matter of time before the settlement occurred. EA Sports decided that it would discontinue making NCAA licensed video games because of the issues with royalties and the use of player likenesses in September 2013. The NCAA's battle to keep EA Sports and CLC as defendants on the multiple lawsuits filed by different player groups was a major factor in delaying the settlement. A group led by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon will continue to pursue its antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA that is scheduled to begin on June 9. By reaching a settlement with the players, EA Sports and CLC essentially removed themselves from the case and left the NCAA as the lone defendant for the upcoming trial.

With the settlement being distributed between so many athletes and the lawyers involved taking their cut, this will not be a major windfall for very many players. The athletes collecting the largest sums in the proposed settlement (it still has to be approved by a judge) will O'Bannon, former Nebraska football player Sam Keller, and former Rutgers football player Ryan Hart. Each of these players will be awarded $15,000 since they devoted the most time to the case as the spearheads of different players' groups. Other athletes are likely to receive between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars based on the number of years that they appeared on the video game and the number of claimants.

As this Deadspin post indicates, this really is no different from the class action lawsuits that most of us have been unknowingly involved with for being charged excessive fees on debit cards. Just the other week, I received a postcard for excessive surcharges that I apparently paid on one of the events that I have attended from the past few years and I am not even sure which ones. Cashing in on such things rarely seem like they are worth the effort. Monetarily speaking, this is more of a windfall for attorneys than anybody.

But, this case has never really been about the money players would receive. It's more about the ability of the NCAA and other entities to reap huge profits from the on-field efforts of amateur athletes.

The fact that current athletes can actually be paid anything is something that the NCAA likely will to continue to fight tooth-and-nail. It starts the NCAA down a slippery slope since it needs to maintain that college athletes are amateurs and not compensated for their efforts. The NCAA has an important status that it wants to protect: the status of being a non-profit organization in spite of the billions of dollars in revenues that it receives from bowl games and the NCAA basketball tournament. With players recognizing their role in generating those revenues, organized efforts on the part of players to unionize or collect on the profits they help generate have been mounting. To continue to portray itself as a non-profit, the NCAA must portray itself as the overseer that thousands of students athletes are receiving academic scholarships for their effort. This recent article that appeared in the Boston Globe does a nice job of summarizing the dilemma.

It is very difficult to predict what the final outcomes of the efforts towards unionization and the push for athletes to collect on the use of their image will be or how this might impact athletics at WSU. However, there is one thing that is certain: the walls the NCAA has constructed to keep college athletes as complete amateurs under strict guidelines have been breached big time and major changes are inevitable. Whether those changes come through litigation, Congress, or a willingness on the part of the NCAA to adapt is yet to be seen.

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