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EA Sports settles suits, thousands of players eligible for money

Electronic Arts Inc. and Collegiate Licensing Co. settled a series of wide-ranging class-action lawsuits on Thursday afternoon regarding college players' likenesses for an undetermined amount.

The settlement will affect more than 100,000 current and former college players who have appeared in the basketball and football versions of EA Sports' video games since 2003. It was not immediately clear if the eligibility of current players will be affected by accepting settlement checks.

Before the settlement filing, EA announced earlier in the day it would no longer manufacture the popular football game.

“I'm disappointed in that because there should be a game,” said plaintiffs' attorney Eugene Egdorf. “All that has to happen is the NCAA allow players to be paid and there would be a game. This is Step 1 to players being paid that should.

“There will be players who play Saturday who should be paid [for their services] as they should be.”

The settlement affects lawsuits brought by former Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart, former Nebraska and Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller and former UCLA basketball star O'Bannon. The settlement does not include the NCAA's ongoing battle with O'Bannon and other plaintiffs in the fight over the rights to player likenesses.

Essentially each player who has appeared in the football and basketball games marketed by EA in the last decade -- approximately 125,000 men -- are eligible for settlement money. According to court documents filed Thursday and obtained by CBSSports.com the settling parties are in the process of preparing documents for the court to approve in order to disburse the money.

The NCAA did not immediately offer a rules interpretation. In other words, would the NCAA view that money as jeopardizing current players' amateur status?

"We learned of this national settlement today," NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said. "We have asked for, but have not yet received, the terms so we cannot comment further."

In such class-action settlements, the monies awarded can range from very little to very large. It depends on how the money is disbursed. But those players will now be compensated by EA using their likenesses in the game without their permission. It is not known yet from the formal settlement if EA is admitting any guilt.

EA annually manufactured the popular college football game which includes the numbers -- but not the names -- of at least every school in FBS.

EA has maintained throughout that any none of the players' attributes or physical qualities or likenesses is based on an actual player. However, one SB Nation reader found former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's name in Florida's playbook in the 2010 version of the football game.

As a condition of eligibility, the NCAA requires players to sign a document that allows it to profit from the athletes' likenesses in perpetuity. After leaving school, players are allowed to profit from their likenesses and images. Example: The annual anticipation over what player would adorn the cover of EA's NCAA Football.

Here is some background on the three main plaintiffs -- Ryan Hart, Sam Keller, Ed O'Bannon.

The Hart case was filed in New Jersey. O'Bannon and Keller were consolidated in California.

In related news, CBSSports.com confirmed the NCAA is headed to mediation in a landmark concussion case.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
 
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