If the NCAA really wanted to protect amateurism, they have an easy solution—especially where video games and jersey rights are concerned. Stop. Just stop allowing the licensing of the likenesses of players to companies that use them to turn obscene profits.
The heat is getting warmer around former UCLA basketball alumnus Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit, and the NCAA is splintering internally on the issue, as ESPN's Outside The Lines reports.
On one hand, there is Harvey Perlman, University of Nebraska Chancellor and law professor specializing in intellectual property, who said:
This whole area of name and likeness and the NCAA is a disaster leading to catastrophe as far as I can tell. I'm still trying to figure out by what authority the NCAA licenses these rights to the game makers and others. I looked at what our student athletes sign by way of waiver and it doesn't come close.
Counter to Perlman, there is Chris Plonsky, who oversees women's sports for the University of Texas:
We're like a version of the Army. We have certain things we have to do a certain way to raise funds and pay for the scholarships and other things s-a's (student-athletes) and their parents expect.
That's a very wide gap between the two sides, which are expected to be united on this "we get to sell out players to game companies and license the usage without compensating them" issue. If there was ever any doubt that EA uses the actual rosters to create the images we all see (and really, there shouldn't be), the released information dispels that myth.
Writes Wendy Harmon, a CLC marketing coordinator:
Just a heads up, in case schools ask you this—all of EA's latest 2008 March Madness basketball submissions have current players' names on the jerseys in the game.
I have called Gina Ferranti at EA about this (she submits all of these basketball ones) and she assured me that they will not be using those in the final version. She said they have to put the players' names in so it will calculate the correct stats but then they take them off. Just don't want the schools to freak out—she said a few have already commented on it in their approval.
CLC, the company that handles the licensing, has pushed, along with EA, to get the NCAA to review a process that would allow them to use the rosters and players' names, instead of doing everything but naming the player. The NCAA took that review and never advanced the possibility. Instead, gamers had to go through an easily accessible back door to get "unauthorized" rosters to populate their teams.
You know, so that the actual players and licensing of their names was never a real NCAA possibility.
Obviously, the lawsuit, set to go to court in 2014, is looking to compensate former players for using their likenesses in games. It also could open the door for current players to have to be compensated for games and jerseys and other merchandise that use their images to turn a profit.
However, if the NCAA was so hellbent on preserving amateurism, they could always arrive at the most simple solution—stop licensing the images. Stop letting EA get access to the rosters to make the games. Stop letting jersey companies turn out new editions year after year of the next big star for any given team. Stop doing it.
That's not to say the video games go away—just play them with generic rosters. You know, protect the innocence of babes from the big bad machine out there by not allowing the games to use their likeness. Stop those amateurs from being exploited by the apparel companies by not licensing the corporations to use their jersey numbers.
In short, make the companies produce a game that only capitalizes on allowable moneymaking entity: the school. Make the jersey companies profit from school spirit, not the amateurs themselves. Generic teams with no resemblance to the real roster. "00" football jerseys and "99" basketball jerseys for everyone.
But the NCAA won't do that, because that idea would never fly with the masses.
People love their schools to death, but the fact is that those products sell because of the names on the back, not just because of the names on the front. Or, better stated, the names that we all know should be on the back but, due to "protecting amateurism" are never actually there.
The NCAA needs the kids. It feeds off the kids. The licensing industry is buoyed by these kids. And now, with the O'Bannon lawsuit, the NCAA is going to be working to find a way to keep licensing the kids' images at absolutely no benefit to these kids.
They're going to fight to keep that right, and in 2014, when the case goes to trial, we'll all be waiting with bated breath to see just what strategy NCAA president Mark Emmert, Chris Plonsky and the rest use to prop up the house of cards.
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