Ed O'Bannon's Lawsuit Against NCAA Will Have an Impact, Good or Bad

Gary BrownCorrespondent IIFebruary 16, 2010

LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 13:  Melvin Goins #21 of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrates during the SEC game against the Kentucky Wilcats on February 13, 2010 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

From College Sports Matchups

The recent court ruling allowing Ed O’Bannon to move forward with his lawsuit regarding the use of his image in a video game should be of interest to all fans of college sports.

A U.S. District Judge recently gave the former U.C.L.A. basketball player a victory over the NCAA in their efforts to have the class-action action suit dropped.

At issue in this particular lawsuit is the use of players’ images in video games.

While the names may have been removed, there is growing sentiment among players that the digital players on the field and court of EA Sports' football and basketball video games look similar to them.

As a result a handful of former players have filed lawsuits against the NCAA and EA. O’Bannon’s suit is the first to successfully pry into the NCAA financial records during the discovery process.

When the lawyers working for O’Bannon finish peeling through the layers of the NCAA, a picture should emerge depicting how the NCAA uses marketing activites involving athletes and their images to make money from video games.

The greatest revelation could be how much income is coming in from various licensing agreements.

While those who are fascinated by legal proceedings will be enthralled as the proceedings unfold, and the NCAA haters will take glee at the undressing of what can be an arrogant association, the rest of us will be left to consider what the impact will be on the games we love.

Here are some thoughts we are pondering at College Sports Matchups as we watch the legal wrangling move forward.

First, who will determine how much each athlete is paid?

In filing the lawsuit, there is an idea that all of the athletes deserve a crack at the money being made from these games.

That might be true, but not all college athletes are created the same. If this lawsuit has a legitimate basis, then it seems that it would be only reasonable for some players to be paid more than others.

Do you really think more kids want to be former Auburn quarterback Chris Todd than Tim Tebow in the electronic game? A likeness of Tebow should be worth way more than Todd.

Offensive linemen and defensive players might discover they have even less of a claim to a pay day.

Do you really think anyone is buying the game to be the best offensive lineman in college football?

If the opportunity to capitalize on the use of your image is the issue, then we have to concur that some images are worth more than others.

Second, what will be the impact be on college athletes that don’t play sports with a video game following?

What about the kids who play on teams where there seems to be more of an emphasis on student than athlete? We have already lost plenty of men’s teams as a result of Title IX. It's hard to imagine that Title IX wouldn't benefit hard working athletes of both genders.

But, I bet those football and basketball players won’t like sharing the dough with the ladies on campus. We might even see more men’s sports slashed as a result of any income distribution plan, if the lawsuit is successful.

If the video games cease to exist, or generate less revenue when the images become more generic, you can still count on the men’s sports being the first to get the axe.

Third, when will young people who sign scholarships recognize there is indeed a value they are receiving for their services?

It is a college education.

It gets tiresome hearing about the poor football and basketball player who comes from a low income situation and has no money to spend on the weekends with his buddies.

In the world of big time college athletics, things work out well financially for athletes from economically deprived backgrounds. Their scholarship provides for their tuition, books, board, meals, and other school related items. Most players from difficult circumstances then receive Pell Grants that provide them more pocket cash than some of their more middle class teammates have available.

If they are smart and frugal, they can even walk out of college with money in the bank from their college days. Really smart athletes will walk out with a degree that can open doors to a better life. Stop blaming coaches because players don’t get their degrees. Blame players who stupidly believe they will become pro athletes and don't take their classes seriously.

Meanwhile, the NCAA has brought much of this unwanted attention to themselves. It is hard to determine which character flaw the governing body of college athletics has more of: greed or hypocrisy.

In public the NCAA is always talking about the “student-athlete” in such a way that you would think the poor kids can hardly find time to practice given their demanding academic schedules.

The NCAA refuses to establish a football playoff for the teams from the largest division because of the way it would interfere with the academics of the players.


Why is that not an issue for the basketball players who travel around the country for weeks on end to play regular season games, conference tournaments, and the Big Dance?

How come baseball players can be gone from campus as frequently as their schedules demand, yet there is no alarm over their ability to gain an education?

Get real.

Basketball and baseball are playing as many weekday games as they are weekend ones. Even with expanding television commitments the vast majority of football is still only played on Saturday.

But, its greed that's the real driver at the NCAA. When you consider that most decisions are being driven by money as opposed to the welfare of the “student-athlete,” then you understand the two-faced actions of the company.

Oh, and don’t forget who really makes up the NCAA—the member schools that write the by-laws and share in the revenue pie with their governing body. Do you really believe USC and Ohio State want that money to trickle down to the players?

It might mean coaches are paid less to travel the country in private jets and live behind shields of stardom. It might even mean they don’t have the money to waste in recruiting quarterbacks who have not thrown a pass in high school yet.

But, here is the rub.

Most schools need funds from video games and other marketing activities conducted by the NCAA to allow their athletic departments to operate. Most athletic departments aren't posting a huge profit, but losing money, or working hard just to break-even.

Schools need all the dollars they can get from football and basketball to pay the coach of the women’s gymnastics team or the men’s crew team. You know, coaches that don’t make a cool fortune leading a powerhouse program, but stay in their profession because they love the games and the kids.

People will be pulling for the plaintiffs in this lawsuit because they would not mind seeing the self righteous NCAA humbled by a group of people they have no control over—former “athlete-students.”

We have no idea who to pull for. We think the whole mess will be bad not just for big time football and basketball, but for all of college sports.


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