I write this as an independent thinker, and not as an EA employee.  I really don’t know anything about this lawsuit other than what’s in the press, and I really have no inner insight into EA’s thinkings.  All comments are my own.  That being said…

The interesting thing to me about the court ruling against EA regarding the likenesses of NCAA players is not so much what it might mean for EA as much as what it will mean for the NCAA.

Student athletes are not permitted to receive compensation for their skills, and NCAA bylaws prevent colleges from exploiting a student-athlete’s fame as well. Yet, the NCAA and CLC granted EA exclusive rights that, in effect, enabled EA to exploit over 8,400 players, including those appearing in EA’s NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball and NCAA March Madness titles.

The NCAA denies that it granted EA rights to student-athlete images, but instead only licensed stadiums, team names, and identifying trademarks. As proof, they point out that, by default, student-athlete names do not appear on team jerseys in any of EA’s games

The short form is that this ruling seems to imply that no one is allowed, under current NCAA bylaws and court rulings, to put the likeness of an NCAA player into a video game.  The NCAA can’t do it, nor can the players license it out themselves (which would be a hellish exercise for a company to do, as it might involve getting rights from 8400 individuals, exactly the reason why the NFL has organizations like the Player’s Association).

Of course, the fact that NCAA players cannot receive compensation anyway remains one of the great inequality of sports anyway.  College sports earn their schools millions and millions of dollars – so much so that the highest paid public official in around 40 of the fifty states are college coaches.  And yet, the college kids who make all of that money for their schools can get banned from the sport if they sign autographs or accept gifts that pale to a modern day NFL salary.  That would be $405K for a rookie NFL player.

The fact that these players pay for free, but are uncompensated, is particularly galling when considered the pain that they face.  The NFL salaries are a lot more understandable when realizing thatplaying any amount of football in your life risks leading to concussions, chronic pain for the rest of their lives, and possibly even suicide.  And only a very few college athletes (about 2.4%) will break into the NFL, largely because skills that make you a superstar in the college ranks completely fail in the faster, harder world of the truly elite.

I have nothing against gladiators providing bread and circuses, but it seems like the least we could do to take care of those bashing their skulls together for our amusement.  The NCAA should adjust their bylaws to allow them to make deals on the player’s behalf, but some cut of that should go to the players – perhaps directly, perhaps in a trust fund.  Then companies like EA would be able to use names AND likenesses without fear, which is good, because games without those likenesses always feel like weak sauce.

But then what do I know: I’m firmly of the belief that college football is a joke anyway.  Thank god the NFL is almost here.