National College Football Writer

NCAA reaches $20 million settlement with players in video game suit

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OAKLAND, Calif. -- As the Ed O'Bannon trial started Monday, the NCAA announced it reached a settlement with plaintiffs over football and basketball video games produced by Electronic Arts.

The NCAA said the settlement will award $20 million to various Division I football and men's basketball players who attended certain universities during the years the games were sold. The settlement, pending approval from a judge, would end the litigation brought by former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller over the use of college athletes' names, images and likenesses in video games. The case had been scheduled for trial in March 2015.

“This is the first time in the history of the NCAA that the organization is paying student-athletes for rights related to their play on the field, compensating them for their contribution to the profit-making nature of college sports,” Keller attorney Steve Berman said in a statement. “We've long held through our various cases against the NCAA that the student-athlete is treated poorly in everything from scholarships to safety. This settlement is a step toward equity and fairness for them.”

The NCAA's settlement means some current college athletes will likely receive money from the fund. And it brings the total sum in video-game settlement money to $60 million. The settlement doesn't impact the O'Bannon antitrust case, which attempted to end the NCAA's rules prohibiting college athletes from being paid off their names, images and likenesses.
"Consistent with the terms of a court-approved settlement, the NCAA will allow a blanket eligibility waiver for any currently enrolled student-athletes who receive funds connected with the settlement,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement. “In no event do we consider this settlement pay for athletics performance.”
Previously, EA and Collegiate Licensing Company settled their claims with video-game plaintiffs for $40 million. That settlement is pending court approval.

"With the games no longer in production and the plaintiffs settling their claims with EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company, the NCAA viewed a settlement now as an appropriate opportunity to provide complete closure to the video game plaintiffs,” Remy said.

An NCAA statement said the “complete details of the settlement remain to be finalized.” An NCAA attorney also told U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken that the NCAA has reached preliminary agreements with EA and CLC over the NCAA's lawsuit in Georgia state court. The NCAA had accused the companies of not protecting the association in their settlement with video-game plaintiffs.

Remy said in a statement that the “unique” video game settlement doesn't impact the NCAA's belief that it operates its collegiate model lawfully.

Attorneys for the Keller plaintiffs said the NCAA settlement will benefit athletes whose images, likenesses or names were included in game footage or in EA video games after 2005. The settlement with EA and CLC dated back to 2003, even if athletes were not in the video games.

When added to the earlier $40 million EA/CLC settlement, Keller attorneys said each athlete could receive more than $1,000 for each year he appeared in the EA video games. That amount will depend on the response and claim rates for the class. Athletes who appeared in video games from 2005 to 2014 will receive more money because only they have a claim against the NCAA, Keller attorney Rob Carey said.

Left unanswered is how the NCAA settlement with EA and CLC may impact future evidence or testimony in the O'Bannon case.

For example, the O'Bannon plaintiffs have been using evidence from EA. They have planned to have EA executive Joel Linzner testify that the company wanted to pay college athletes for use of their names in NCAA video games and was willing to pay more for those rights. That's an attempt by the plaintiffs to show there's a marketplace for group licensing of college athletes. O'Bannon attorney Michael Hausfeld said Linzner will still testify.

The NCAA sued EA and CLC by claiming the companies didn't protect the association during settlement talks with video game plaintiffs. When asked whether the NCAA's settlement with EA and CLC will protect the NCAA in any O'Bannon evidence and testimony, Remy replied, "It wasn't a settlement about protection of the NCAA. It was a settlement about dealing with the claims in the Keller case. The terms of the settlement are still being worked out. There's not really much more that can be said about it."


Jon Solomon is a national college football reporter with CBSSports.com. Solomon joined CBS in 2014 after covering college football at The Birmingham News/AL.com for eight years. He previously was a Clemson beat writer for The (Columbia, S.C.) State and The Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail.
 
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