Former NCAA Athletes Win Lawsuit Against Electronic Arts

Alex KayCorrespondent IJuly 31, 2013

A group of former NCAA athletes has earned another victory in court against Electronic Arts on Wednesday.

According to Chris Morris in a special report for

In a 2-1 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that EA had used the images in its video games of several ex-NCAA athletes without their permission in its NCAA football and basketball series. The decision comes two weeks after EA lost the rights to put the NCAA logo and name on its games beyond this year.

Speaking for the majority, Circuit Judge Jay Bybee stated that EA "literally recreates [Arizona State University quarterback Samuel] Keller in the very setting in which he has achieved renown." Keller and the other collegiate athletes whose "likenesses" were used have never received compensation from the company and are unhappy about it.

Dissenting Circuit Judge Sidney Thomas argued that creative elements “predominate over the commercial use of the athletes' likenesses.”

EA released a statement claiming to be disappointed with the decision and is hoping to have a similar case — brought forth by former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon and other athletes — is dismissed, per Morris.

O’Bannon is arguing that the Collegiate Licensing Company and EA Sports violated antitrust laws by giving athletes nothing in return for using their image and likeness in video games and other products, per Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated.  

Per Morris, the company is also facing a suit in federal appeals court from former Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart that is similar to the Keller and O’Bannon cases.

All of these lawsuits open the door for college players to be compensated for their efforts.

Chris Hummer of The Dallas Morning News recently reported that Texas Longhorns coach Mack Brown, South Carolina Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and others all believe that their student-athletes deserve to be paid.

ESPN’s Darren Rovell tweeted that Brown said his players are “killing themselves” and get nothing, while the university brought in $163 million from the football program:

Texas coach Mack Brown: “I do think players need to be paid. These players are killing themselves & at Texas last year we made $163M.”

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) July 24, 2013

Clearly, the topic of compensation for college athletes is a relevant discussion right now.

It’s an interesting dilemma for which the NCAA is facing much scrutiny. This is likely why the organization is doing its best to distance itself from the public spotlight and disassociate itself with Electronic Arts.

A fortnight ago, EA lost the rights to put the NCAA logo and name on any future games. The NCAA cited business reasons and litigation costs as a reason to end its partnership with the company, according to Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today.

Instead of canceling the series, the company plans to forge ahead with a college football game.

Schrotenboer noted that EA has secured agreements from over 150 colleges, numerous conferences and various bowl games to continue creating a simulation for one of America’s most popular sports.

Andrew Wilson, Electronic Arts' executive vice president, reaffirmed the company’s commitment to making the football game in a statement (per Morris):

Our relationship with the Collegiate Licensing Company [which manages the trademarks of the majority of the colleges in the game] is strong and we are already working on a new game for next generation consoles which will launch next year and feature the college teams, leagues, and all the innovation fans expect from EA Sports.

The results of the pending cases and the decision in the Keller suit project to impact how the company approaches the creation and content of its college football game in the future.

If the NCAA’s withdrawal and Wednesday’s decision is any indication, EA Sports may be in more trouble than it is letting on.