EA Sports Settles O’Bannon Lawsuit

October 3, 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013, by Catherine Perez
The O’Bannon vs NCAA, EA Sports, and CLC lawsuit has been the hot topic of NCAA advocacy for months. Although originally filed in 2009, the suit took a significant turn in July when the District Court of Northern California rejected EA Sports’ proposed First Amendment defense. This left EA Sports with two choices: either take the matter to court and defend their use of the name and likeness of student athletes in NCAA Football videogames, or settle. On September 26, 2013, EA Sports announced that they have reached a settlement that would, “change the business model for major college athletics.” EA Sports had previously announced, pursuant to the NCAA’s withdrawal from the videogame franchise, that it would produce a 2015 version of its franchise, dubbed “College Football 2015.” However, along with the settlement, EA Sports has officially halted production of the videogames.
Reports state that there was enough evidence to support the claim that EA Sports not only used multiple spreadsheets to match up their avatars with the student-athletes, but that they knew they were “pushing the boundaries of acceptable likeness usage.” However, because EA Sports and the CLC have come to a settlement agreement, all the evidence relating to the videogames, and the videogame claims themselves, have been removed from litigation. This leaves only one defendant before the court: the NCAA. The problem remains, however, that aside from court-ordered damages, the NCAA has in effect an amateurism policy that prohibits payment for student-athletes. With new, active, athletes being added to the list of plaintiffs, it will be interesting to see how this settlement and continued litigation with the NCAA will affect that policy.

The focal point of a suit against the NCAA would be the massive television revenue currently enjoyed by the NCAA and various conferences.

The plaintiffs, meanwhile, are awaiting a decision by District Court Judge Claudia Wilken on their motion for class certification that was filed on June 6, 2013. If the motion is denied, the current plaintiffs will have the choice to either bring suit or settle with the NCAA.  Alternatively, if the motion is granted then the suit would be open to a floodgate of potential plaintiffs, both former and current NCAA athletes.  The focal point of a suit against the NCAA would be the massive television revenue currently enjoyed by the NCAA and various conferences.
Amongst all the litigation remains a huge question: will this suit only result in damages for past injuries, or will the NCAA need to rethink its policies on amateurism? NCAA has responded with a controversial statement:
College sports today are valued by the student-athletes who compete and all of us who support them.  However, the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the likeness case now want to make this about professionalizing a few current student-athletes to the detriment of all others.  Their scheme to pay a small number of student-athletes threatens college sports as we know it.
With statements that are so clearly on the defensive, the NCAA has made it known that they will fight tooth and nail to prevent reform to the NCAA’s amateurism policies.