EA Sports Settlement Will Alter the Landscape of College Athletics

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor ISeptember 27, 2013

Apr 4, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; NCAA president Mark Emmert speaks at a press conference in preparation for the men's Final Four of the 2013 NCAA basketball tournament at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

While Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was making headlines for suggesting that players that want to get paid should do just that in a professional environment, via ESPN, there was an equally important story brewing—one that could potentially change the face of college athletics as we know it. 

On Thursday, EA Sports, along with the Collegiate Licensing Corporation, settled a lawsuit filed by ex-college athletes and headlined by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon, as per Steve Eder of The New York Times

That leaves the NCAA as the lone defendant as the case moves forward, and it also means the lawsuit has the chance to really affect the future of college athletics. 

According to O'Bannon's lawyer in Eder's report

Michael Hausfeld, a lawyer for the athletes, declined to discuss the settlement terms but said it would not be an 'unreasonable inference' to conclude that the student-athletes might now have the support of E.A. Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company, which handles rights licensing for many universities.

However, inferring support and staying out of the middle of a bitter court battle are perhaps two very different things—at least according to the press release from EA Sports: 

We have been stuck in the middle of a dispute between the NCAA and student-athletes who seek compensation for playing college football. Just like companies that broadcast college games and those that provide equipment and apparel, we follow rules that are set by the NCAA – but those rules are being challenged by some student-athletes.  For our part, we are working to settle the lawsuits with the student-athletes.

Whatever the support or lack of support is by EA Sports is almost irrelevant at this point in time, because what the settlement means is that the NCAA is on an island in still fighting this battle. 

It also means that should the NCAA choose to settle or lose at trial, the model of amateurism as we know it is gone in college athletics. 

Additionally, it could serve to further separate those schools and conferences that make money versus those that don't—something that has been rumored for months now. Earlier this week, there was a meeting of over 100 Division I athletic faculty representatives and the rumor of a split between the BCS conferences and other leagues added further fuel to the fire, via The Associated Press (h/t ESPN): 

The discussion touched briefly on whether the NCAA would consider creating a new big-school bowl division -- in essence, splitting up the current Division I. A packet distributed at the session called 'Principles and Model for New Governance Structure' suggests that FBS institutions and conferences that are more closely aligned in issues and athletics resources form a new division.

Could a scheduled meeting of NCAA membership in January be the key to all these issues? 

Delany and others have hinted at that meeting being the focal point for all the change that may or may not be coming down the pipeline for college sports. 

Even NCAA President Mark Emmert has said as much, telling the AP (via ESPN) that major changes were to come at that event. 

I think the board anticipates a lot of change. They're going into their October and January meetings expecting to look at a whole different governance model for Division I. So it will be significantly different.

However, it is hard to deny the fact that business partners of the NCAA jumping ship and willing to settle with former athletes is anything but a bad sign for the future of college athletics as we know it. 

Perhaps the only questions left to ask are, what will college sports actually look like in the future, and will it be sustainable under the NCAA model?


*Andy Coppens is the Lead Big Ten Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more information and discussion.