The NCAA is trying to avoid one form of Pandora’s Box and is likely opening another in discontinuing its relationship with EA Sports. This speaks to the larger issue of whether if or how collegiate athletes should be compensated outside of scholarship free rides. For college football and its 100-man rosters, the answer should be no.
While one athlete can claim an EA avatar resembles the style of how he plays, say as a running back, can the long snapper for the same Solid State U team come out and make the same claim about his position? Is the wealth going to be spread to all 100 players on the roster? All college athletes should have protections for medical care from injuries, but while football, basketball, and to a lesser degree hockey players are revenue generators for their schools, that revenue generation is part of what makes the free rides of sports scholarship possible.
Identifying athletes on computer or video games is not a new phenomenon and even members of the NFLPA in the past have not given permission about the use of their individual names. Over twenty years ago, one Tampa Bay linebacker was only “Jimmy 58,” when the rest of teammates in a computer game were known by their full names.
What is problematic about the idea of the NCAA allowing its member schools to deal individually with EA Sports is that it will likely create another case of the rich getting richer. Instead of the NCAA being able to ladle out the wealth from EA in an even-handed way, the Alabamas and Notre Dames of the college gridiron will reap even greater windfalls from their own side deals.
Given the fluid state of collegiate conferences, there is no middle ground for EA to deal with between the NCAA and individual schools. If EA Sports creates its college team performances based upon statistical tendencies from the teams’ actual performances, what is to keep college coaches from wanting to claim a piece of the game pie for EA mimicking their game plans? In other words, where does this end?