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NCAA officials expressed 'real concern' over EA's use of college athletes' images in games

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Officials from the National Collegiate Athletic Association expressed "real concern" over the use of college athletes' likenesses being used in EA Sports video games, according to new emails released in a lawsuit against EA, the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing Company.

A report from The Birmingham News details the emails from NCAA officials, which were released in the suit filed by former college athletes against the organizations. Those athletes allege EA, the NCAA and CLC colluded without paying them after signing away certain rights to their likenesses.

Games in EA Sports' NCAA Basketball — which Electronic Arts stopped producing in 2009 — and NCAA Football series were designed to have in-game players "match as closely as possible the real-life characteristics," according to lawyers for the former student-athletes.

In one email to NCAA vice president David Berst, a compliance coordinator questioned whether using identifiable characteristics of the students in video games could be a liability for the association.

"Is anyone at the NCAA tracking on this issue?" the email reads. "We wanted to make sure there is an awareness of the level of identification in this game, given that it is presently one of the highest-selling video games on the market."

"The jersey number along with the position and vital statistics is clearly an attempt to have the public make the association with the current student-athlete," added NCAA official Steve Mallonee in a follow-up email released in court. Concerns were later raised about policies "allow[ing] for the maximum commercial exploitation" of college student-athletes.

Court documents in the case released last November revealed that NCAA officials were aware that student likenesses would be used in commercial products, including EA's games.