INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA announced Monday that it will pay $20 million to former football and basketball players who had their images and likenesses used in video games, hoping the settlement will help keep amateurism rules intact for college sports.
Hours before the O'Bannon trial began in California challenging the NCAA's the authority to restrict or prohibit payments to athletes, the largest governing body in college sports said it had settled another potentially damaging lawsuit scheduled to go to trial next March. Sam Keller, the former quarterback at Arizona State and Nebraska, filed the class-action suit in May 2009 and contended the NCAA unfairly deprived college players of revenue.
"I think they're going to be pleased that they were the catalyst to being the first (college) athletes to be paid for their performance for the first time in history," Steve Berman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Associated Press shortly after the deal was announced.
The deal comes a little more than a week after Electronic Arts agreed to a $40 million settlement of similar allegations.
The $60 million worth of settlements cover claims made in the Keller and O'Bannon cases against EA, along with two other cases, Berman said. The agreement announced Monday covers Division I men's basketball and Bowl Subdivision football players whose images, likenesses or names were included in game footage or in an EA video game after 2005. The $40 million settlement covers athletes to 2003, even if they were not in the video games.
Final details were still being worked out. How much each player gets will be determined by how many athletes file claims. Based on historical trends, Berman said, he expects the payments to Division I men's basketball and Bowl Subdivision football players to range from $400 to $2,000 each.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in the Northern District of California must approve the settlement.
Last July, the NCAA said it would no longer allow Electronic Arts Inc. of Redwood City, California, to use its logo once the current contract expired this month. That ended a lucrative business deal with the multibillion-dollar gaming industry giant, which is well known for Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer and other games. EA Sports first began making an NCAA Football game in 1998.
Berman estimated that more than 100,000 athletes are now eligible to seek compensation over EA video games they contend relied on close depictions of college football and basketball players.
"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," NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said.
The NCAA said current players who receive part of the settlement won't be at risk of punishment under rules that generally bar compensation for their athletic skills.
"In no event do we consider this settlement pay for athletics performance," Remy said.
With the NCAA increasingly becoming embroiled in legal cases, the playing field has changed.
CBS and Turner are paying the NCAA an average of more than $770 million per year to televise the men's basketball tournament, some schools are making millions more per year from their own television deals and the BCS has paid out in excess of $175 million per year. So when others profited from the video games, college athletes went to court to get a bigger piece of the pie.
Ed O'Bannon, the former UCLA basketball player, and other plaintiffs are asking U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken for an injunction that would allow athletes to sell the rights to their own images in television broadcasts and rebroadcasts. That trial began Monday in federal court in California.
While the long-term ramifications from the settlement in the Keller case are yet to be determined, the short-term implication is clear.
"Going forward, I think people will be on notice that if they are going to use players likenesses, they will have to pay for them," Berman said.