Five years ago, an NCAA executive said EA Sports should be allowed to use actual names of its amateur athletes—commanding a higher licensing fee as a result—because players' likenesses were "rigged into the games now by illegal means." Permitting their use would clear up the matter and bring more money to the NCAA, he said.
The comments came to light in documents exposed by a lawsuit 15 former college players have brought against the NCAA and EA Sports, according to The Birmingham News of Alabama.
Though it is obvious to anyone who has played the game, as far back as 2003 the NCAA was aware that EA Sports was basing its rosters on real players, using their real numbers, and rating them accordingly to real performance. "We don't actually use player names but we do use all the attributes and jersey numbers of the players," an EA Sports representative said to Peter Davis, the NCAA's director of corporate alliances at the time.
NCAA amateurism policies prohibit athletes receiving any benefit tied to their notoriety or their performances. nor may they endorse any product on the same grounds. Appearing under their real names in either NCAA Football or the defunct NCAA Basketball (also known as March Madness) would violate that rule and threaten an athlete's eligibility.
For years, EA Sports has coded its collegiate rosters with nearly every identifying trait of a player except for his real name. User-edited rosters, shared through an in-game feature EA Sports established in 2007, fulfills the final step. Previous filings in the lawsuit showed negotiations between EA Sports and the NCAA for the use of real names, and indicated that the "EA Locker" roster share feature was developed as a response to it.
The latest documents show the NCAA leadership willing to consider the idea. In 2007, Greg Shaheen, then a vice president in the NCAA, argued that the association should adopt rules that permitted the use of players' names and likenesses in the video games EA Sports was making. Shaheen said the players' likenesses were effectively already being used, but "it's just that our membership doesn't benefit from it."
At the time, the NCAA was making between $4 million and $8 million annually in licensing payments from NCAA Basketball which was canceled after its 2009 release because of poor sales and high development costs. Permitting the use of players' real names in the shipped product would both improve the game's sales and, therefore, the payments the NCAA received from it, Shaheen argued.
Fifteen former basketball and football standouts have filed the lawsuit as a challenge to the NCAA's amateurism model, in which the organization and its constituent universities and conferences reap millions in deals concerning television broadcast rights and memorabilia sales, with no money going to athletes whatsoever. The plaintiffs propose a system where athletes are compensated for the use of their likeness through a trust fund that issues payments after the athletes have exhausted their eligibility or graduated.
NCAA knew EA Sports video games used real players, e-mails from Ed O'Bannon lawsuit show [The Birmingham News, via Pastapadre]