EA Sports developed college games with athletes' real names

EA Sports used the real names of NCAA student-athletes during the development of its now-defunct college basketball video game franchise, according to emails uncovered in an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, Electronic Arts, and Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), ESPN reports.

EA Sports used the real names of NCAA student-athletes during the development of its now-defunct college basketball video game franchise, according to emails uncovered in an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, Electronic Arts, and the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), ESPN reports.

Electronic Arts' EA Sports label was one of the NCAA's major licensees for its college basketball series, NCAA March Madness (later NCAA Basketball). Under the terms of EA's licensing agreement with the CLC, the firm that manages the licensing of NCAA teams' brands and trademarks — as well as the NCAA's own bylaws on student-athletes, who are considered amateurs — the video game publisher could not use college players' real names in its NCAA titles.

The NCAA and EA argue that the games never used college players' likenesses; college sports titles have always been released without real names attached to players, who are instead identified by their jersey numbers alone. But according to an email from a CLC representative sent in July 2007, EA's work-in-progress versions of NCAA March Madness 08 featured players' real names so "[the game] will calculate the correct stats." An EA spokeswoman assured the CLC that the names would be removed before the games were released.

A senior executive later forwarded the message to other CLC executives, noting, "This is exactly the type of thing that could submarine the game if it got into the media."

"This is exactly the type of thing that could submarine the game if it got into the media"

Furthermore, another email exchange reveals that until the filing of the lawsuit in 2009, the NCAA was exploring the possibility of allowing EA to begin to use collegiate players' real names in their video games.

A CLC manager wrote in 2007 that the NCAA "now [finally] sees EA as an important tool to allow them to reach young people with the values associated with intercollegiate athletics." NCAA leaders even held a meeting to discuss the change, with the goal being "to lobby for the rights to use rosters in video games, including the names of players on jerseys within the game." The CLC officer continued, "[The NCAA] is now confident that we will get this done. That will be a huge win for us and EA."

While that proposal fell by the wayside, future college sports games made by EA included a feature called EA Locker, starting with NCAA Football 08. It allowed users to edit the games' rosters to give players their real names, and then upload the rosters to EA's servers for other users to download — a workaround built by EA to circumvent the NCAA and CLC's licensing restrictions.

The lawsuit, originally filed on behalf of current and former players of college football and basketball, alleges that the three organizations conspired to make sure student-athletes were not compensated for the use of their names, images, and likenesses — while those organizations reaped profits totaling billions of dollars on the backs of the student-athletes. The plaintiffs, including former college star Ed O'Bannon, and NBA legends Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell, have suggested that a cut of the NCAA's profits be placed in a trust that athletes can access after their college careers. The case is scheduled to go to trial in 2014, upon the certification of the suit as a class action.

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