Former college athletes led by ex-UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon sued the NCAA and EA Sports last year over the use of their likenesses, claiming that both they and current players had a right to video game and broadcast revenues. The NCAA still expects to win, according to the statement.
“We are confident in our legal position regarding the use of our trademarks in video games,” the statement said. “But given the current business climate and costs of litigation, we determined participating in this game is not in the best interests of the NCAA.”
Believing that requires an interesting definition of “confident.” These games are profitable for both the NCAA, so giving them up isn’t a decision it made on a whim. It’s clear that the NCAA sees its position as far more precarious than it has previously admitted publicly — even if its fears are evident from emails between officials that have leaked to the press.
This won’t affect the O’Bannon case — it’s too late for that. But it’s obvious even to the NCAA now that at least part of its amateurism argument is breaking down. Defending the games on their merits is basically impossible, since it is obvious that fans buy them to play with the real schools and real players (a fact EA officials have admitted). The NCAA has argued that the use of likenesses in games is EA’s problem and that it, essentially, either wasn’t aware of or had no control over its occurrence. Now, it has decided to wash its hands of the entire practice and look the other way in an attempt to protect itself and its amateurism from future liabilities. The problem is that even if it prevails in the O’Bannon case, it is becoming easier and easier to see through the shadows of its amateurism arguments, and few people outside the collegiate sports structure seem to like what they see.