Yesterday it was announced that EA Sports is at least temporarily getting out of the college football video game business, after settling lawsuits brought by thousands of former players claiming their likenesses were used without compensation. It's chump change for the players, but one big fish still remains: the NCAA itself.
EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company settled three suits, including the famous Ed O'Bannon case, for a reported $40 million. It's not yet determined how the money will be shared, but with somewhere between 200,000-300,000 plaintiffs, that could mean an average payout as low as $133 per player. Much less, after attorneys' fees are taken out.
It's fair to say the larger impact isn't about the money, but about attacking the structure that allows everyone to profit off amateur athletes except the athletes themselves. The video games are a vector for that disease; the NCAA is the agent. And with EA Sports and the CLC settling, there's only one defendant left. "This settlement does not affect Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant National Collegiate Athletic Association," the court filing reads.
The NCAA plans to fight. Though a settlement wouldn't entail an admission of guilt, it would be a blow to the infrastructure that's looking kind of shaky in recent years. Concede the video games, and are merchandise sales and TV contracts next?
"We're prepared to take this all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to," NCAA head counsel Donald Remy said. "We are not prepared to compromise on the case."
There's a more immediate clash on the way. The cases settled by EA isn't limited to former players. All current players are eligible to take part in the settlement, which raises the specter of college players—gasps, flutters handkerchief, collapses onto fainting couch—collecting money off their likenesses while still playing football.
With at least six current players already part of the O'Bannon suit, it's going to happen. And as embarassing as it may be for the NCAA, it's apparently not a violation.
"NCAA rules would not preclude an individual student-athlete from seeking legal remedies [including damages] otherwise available to..."— Brad Barnes (@TAMUCompliance) September 27, 2013
"... them to protect name, likeness or image that was being illegally used by another individual."— Brad Barnes (@TAMUCompliance) September 27, 2013