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EA settles in athlete likeness suit, will suspend  NCAA Football
EA settles in athlete likeness suit, will suspend NCAA Football
September 26, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

Electronic Arts has announced it is cancelling development of its NCAA Football franchise, in conjunction with the announcement of a proposed settlement in a suit concerning the uncompensated likenesses of several student athletes.

The announcement comes at the heels of a three-year court battle and, more recently, several months of legal back-and-forth, during which the NCAA and several other collegiate licensing companies announced they were pulling out of future licensing deals with EA, and EA filed an (unsuccessful) petition for dismissal. During this period, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that human likenesses in games are not a form of protected speech.

While EA's settlement with the plaintiffs doesn't necessarily represent a concession to this view, it does seem apparent EA didn't find the matter worth pursuing in this present case.

"We are extraordinarily pleased with this settlement," attorney Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman (the law firm representing the student athletes), said in a statement. "When we filed the case [in 2009], we felt very strongly that EA's appropriation of student athletes' images for a for-profit venture was wrong, both in a legal sense and... a moral sense."

The terms of the settlement have not yet been disclosed, although Hagens Berman indicated intentions to share said information with the U.S. District Court and the general public in the near future. In the short term, the effect of the settlement is that EA has been dropped from the student athletes' class action lawsuit, leaving the plaintiffs to pursue legal action against the NCAA.

"The NCAA intentionally looked the other way while EA commercialized the likenesses of students," Berman contended in the statement. The NCAA has maintained that it was not involved in any such licensing.

In keeping with the timing of the proposed settlement, EA Sports also released a statement that it will be suspending development of its NCAA Football line, with plans to reassess the state of the franchise at a later date.

"The ongoing legal issues combined with increased questions surrounding schools and conferences have left us in a difficult position -- one that challenges our ability to deliver an authentic sports experience," EA Sports' Cam Weber said in the announcement. "We are evaluating our plan for the future of the franchise."

As we previously reported, it's entirely possible for the franchise to go on without the NCAA branding.

This article originally stated that development on EA Sports' NCAA Football 14 had been cancelled, but that is incorrect. The article has been revised to accurately reflect the statement from EA.

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Michael Kearney
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This is just silly IMO. You can't have a college sports game without having the players, EA wouldn't be able to make any money off of it, is ESPN paying the players to be shown on TV? I assume D1 players have to sign something when they join a team to "give their permission" to be shown on tv, can't EA do the same? And if you don't like the idea, then you aren't put in the game? I dunno that's just my simple view on the situation.

Katy Smith
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The players don't get paid by ESPN to be on TV. The NCAA and the school gets paid (and maybe the players' association? I'd have to check). The college athletes aren't allowed to get money for performance. Only scholarships and other school-related expenses.

Adam Bishop
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In 3 of the major pro sports (NFL, NHL, NBA) there is a salary cap where players are guaranteed a specific % of revenues so in those sports yes, players are paid for TV revenues.

If the developers of a game for a major league sport want to use the likenesses of the players from that sport they have to license them from the relevant Players Association, which means that the players are compensated for the use of their likeness (this is why video games can't use retired players without signing deals with them individually - because they are not longer covered by the PA).

So, in short, yes professional athletes *are* compensated for the use of their image in this manner.

Katy Smith
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Except NCAA athletes are not professional athletes. They are students. And Student-Athletes are not allowed to be paid under current rules. That's why Manziel selling his signatures was such a big deal a few weeks ago. He's not allowed to do that under current NCAA rules (amateurism). Student athletes are not allowed to profit on their sports. That would make them professional athletes, and the NCAA does not support that.

Bryan Wagstaff
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I thought it was interesting that NCAA was selling player-based shirts and memorabilia until Manziel's supporters pointed out the double standard. Then NCAA removed their merchandise from the store.

I imagine it was the same type of issue. I'm assuming EA had an agreement with NCAA, but then NCAA was doing the same hypocritical thing of making money from something they prohibit the athletes from doing.

College football is an unfortunate beast. Athletics mean big money. FSU is probably tops of the list with about $100M/year, but UVa, UNC, Duke, and others are not far behind spending over $70M/year. The NCAA makes money, the schools make money, ESPN makes money, the only ones not making money are the players.

Michael Kearney
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I don't think I understand your point Bishop? You said professional athletes but the NCAA is a college series.

Joseph Arcidiacono
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It's too bad getting to this point resulted in so much collateral damage.

Harry Fields
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Well, this sucks. I always preferred NCAA to Madden for my every two year football franchise purchase.

Michael Wenk
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While you may miss a year, I would be surprised if we didn't see some kind of NCAA football by the next year at least. Perhaps not made by EA Sports, but there's just too much money in it for no one to try.

Greg Quinn
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Why can't we all just get along..

Daniel Lau
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This was the obvious conclusion of the case for EA. Without any easy way to sign all players to a licensing arrangement (like having an NFLPA for college players), there was no way EA could manage an NCAA football title. And without player likeness, there is little to no interest from the paying public. Maybe what EA could do is remove player likeness and, instead, create a bidding system in the game that let's players assume the role of college coaches and pay for players to join their team. Maybe even add a, "pay your star quarterback for signing autographs," option to keep your players happy. That would, at least, give a college version of their football title a feature that the Madden didn't have.