The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit has unearthed internal NCAA emails related to EA Sports exploiting player likenesses. The emails reveal the sham of NCAA amateurism and its short lifespan moving forward.
EA Sports uses player likenesses. The company has lobbied the NCAA explicitly to use the real player names in its football and basketball games. It has even used the real names in preliminary versions of a game to ensure correct data entry. Executives were well aware of the potential legal implications if that became public knowledge.
“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,” wrote Wendy Harmon, CLC non-apparel marketing coordinator. “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 player names in so it will calculate the correct stats but then they take them off.”
Later that day, CLC CEO Derek Eiler forwarded the e-mail to other executives and wrote, “Just an FYI on this in case word reaches the NCAA. This is exactly the type of thing that could submarine the game if it got into the media.”
In March 2009, an NCAA executive’s email said EA Sports “can and will use student-athlete images from the game but may not enhance them to look more like the real life players.”
There is disagreement within the NCAA. Some NCAA officials have suggested abandoning the term “student-athlete” altogether. Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, hardly a progressive when it comes to modernizing college sports, openly disagreed with the NCAA’s position.
“This whole area of name and likeness and the NCAA is a disaster leading to catastrophe as far as I can tell,” Perlman wrote. “I have asked that it be placed on the agenda for the Board meeting on August 6th. 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.”
Texas President Bill Powers questioned why the NCAA was a defendant and not a plaintiff fighting the exploitation of its students.
“I’m not sure I fully understand the claim, but it looks like the NCAA makes money from these licenses,” Powers wrote. “Why should we be defendants in this, rather than plaintiffs representing our students? Again, I may have this all wrong, but we went through the same thing with the last lawsuit, and the NCAA was not bathed in glory.”
Internal arguments in favor of the NCAA’s policy display the expected intellectual bankruptcy. Texas associate AD Chris Plonsky termed playing a collegiate sport “a version of the army.” She argued that players who earned degrees in the 80s and 90s had “sucked a whole lot off the college athletics pipe” and that football and basketball players exhibited an “entitlement attitude.”
What the Future Holds. Major college football and basketball are multi-billion dollar industries, administered by rules that are outdated, unfair and unenforceable. The logic and the legal justifications are specious. The costs of maintaining the rules outweigh any perceived benefit. Who gained by the NCAA cracking down on Ohio State football players obtaining trifling amounts of outside income?
The Olympic model provides a clear way forward and costs schools nothing. It alleviates an unnecessary enforcement burden. It does not detract from the product. It does not prevent a conflict with Title IX. Treat “student-athletes” as students. Provide them with a scholarship and a stipend to cover the true cost of attendance (a trifling percentage of the new television revenue). Don’t inhibit them from having representation or from legitimately capitalizing on their value outside the university.
[Photo via Presswire]