May 9th, 2009

NCAA Taken to Court Over Player Exploitation

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

A common refrain from NCAA officials when CBS Sports started naming the players in its fantasy college football game last year was that the practice exploits amateur athletes for profit. It turns out that one former player thinks the governing body needs to check the mirror.

Sam Keller, who played quarterback at Nebraska and Arizona State, is suing EA Sports and the NCAA over the way players are treated in EA’s college football and basketball games.

The games don’t sport the exact likenesses or names of the players involved, but anyone who has played them knows that the games match all of the player numbers from the real teams and mirror things such as player sizes and biographical information.

Most of us probably also know that for more than 10 years now, users have been able to enter the real-life names for the players and have the virtual announcer call them out.

Electronic Arts and the NCAA don’t believe they’re breaking any rules because they don’t use actual likenesses or player names in the games. Of course, it seems to be a pretty fine line they’re walking.

We’re not here to analyze what kind of case Keller has. Frankly, whichever way the ruling goes, it probably won’t have any real ramifications for fantasy game providers. Even if a court finds in Keller’s favor that players are being exploited, any action against a fantasy company would have to go up against the recent rulings in CBC v. MLBPA and CBS v. NFLPA. Each of those suits have determined player names and statistics to reside in the public domain, making them fair game for fantasy operators.

However, it’s hard not to think that the Keller suit at least exposes the NCAA as hypocritical in its stance against fantasy. Perhaps having the spotlight cast on this profitable relationship with EA Sports will lead some NCAA folks to think twice before blaming CBS’ fantasy division for the ruination of its otherwise untarnished student-athletes.