What started out as a lawsuit over video game appearances has quickly spiraled into something much larger.
Ed O'Bannon, a former basketball star at UCLA, leads a group of former athletes (including National Basketball Association Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson) in trying to get compensated for their appearances. College athletes are provided scholarships (which are renewable year-to-year at the university's discretion) in exchange for signing away their rights. In some cases, these athletes - think recent Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel - earn their colleges millions of dollars in revenues, yet never see a penny.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken presided over a hearing early this week about the issue, which many experts predict the NCAA will lose. More than 100 lawyers attended the hearing, as the case now stands poised to additionally affect the distribution of money from TV networks to current NCAA athletes (as well as former).
Wilken wants the lawsuit amended to include a current NCAA athlete, as she pondered why none were include. Lawyer Michael Hausfeld, representing the plaintiffs, said he had "been anticipating this for quite some time and there are a number of current athletes who have expressed a desire and an interest in joining the case."
A ruling is not imminent, but the stakes are real. Could these changes affect the games you see on TV? It certainly seems possible.
For decades, video gamers could play Electronic Arts (and other video game publishers) video games that let you use players that resemble their real-life counterparts to a T, minus the name. For example, if you played as Texas A&M, you would have Quarterback #2 (Manziel's number), who had his exact measurements, hometown, playing style, etc. - everything but the name. The NCAA feels that athletes give up their rights when they sign release forms. Players are not permitted to make their own outside deals.
The lawsuit was them modified to say the NCAA sets up "collusive restraints" not to pay athletes for "their names, images and likenesses in connection with live television broadcasts of games and video games."
Billions of TV dollars are at stake here - with networks such as ESPN eagerly watching. All major broadcast networks have aired college sports in one form or another. There are even networks now for the individual conferences in the NCAA - the Big 10 Network, the Pac-12 Network and the upcoming SEC Network, for example. They all are going to be affected by this, as well.
Can they sustain their inventory of productions without games? Doubtful. But that seems like a possibility if the players start getting financial compensation.