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Attorneys in NCAA/EA lawsuit 'heartened' by NCAA spurning EA

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

The NCAA's decision to end its association with NCAA Football publisher Electronic Arts "heartened" Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP — one of the law firms handling class-action lawsuits against Electronic Arts, the NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) — but the firm won't stop there.

Citing "the current business climate and costs of litigation," the NCAA announced two days ago that it won't renew its licensing agreement with EA for college football games once their current contract expires next June. That will leave this year's NCAA Football 14 as the last college football game under the NCAA Football name, which EA has been using since 1997.

"It's apparent to us that the NCAA's decision to end its long and hugely profitable relationship with EA is tied directly to the pressure our litigation is bringing [to] bear," said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, in a statement released yesterday. "This announcement makes plain that the NCAA is attempting to mitigate the damage by ducking its responsibilities."

Berman added, "Our suit illustrates how the cabal between the NCAA and EA has exploited student athletes for years, using their images in video games without compensation. While we are heartened they've stopped the practice, we believe they owe those student athletes a great deal more than their implied promise to stop stealing their images."

"the NCAA is attempting to mitigate the damage by ducking its responsibilities"

But EA will proceed with the series under a new name by continuing its relationship with the CLC, which handles licensing for more than 100 schools that appear in the publisher's college football games. The CLC confirmed to Polygon today that it and EA have signed a new non-exclusive licensing agreement, which will run for three years starting in July 2014. As of now, it appears EA's games will remain largely unchanged except for the absence of the NCAA name and logo; the publisher said next year's game is already in development on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Hagens Berman is litigating a class-action suit led by Sam Keller, who played football at Arizona State University and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. A similar suit led by former University of California, Los Angeles basketball star Ed O'Bannon is represented by the firm Hausfeld LLP. The two suits were consolidated into a single class-action case in 2010.

Hausfeld LLP announced yesterday the addition of six current NCAA athletes to the O'Bannon suit as representatives of the class action. In a hearing last month to determine whether the consolidated suit will be certified as a class action, a judge requested that current student athletes be added to the class if the suit is to speak on behalf of current as well as former players.

"The number of athletes that have stepped forward demonstrates the seriousness of this issue," said Hausfeld LLP partner Hilary Scherrer. "There is a growing public recognition that the NCAA's business practices are corrupt and must be changed."

As of this writing, representatives for Hagens Berman and Hausfeld LLP had no comment on today's announcement of the new agreement between EA and the CLC.