Eric Draper / AP
Thursday, July 18, 2013 | 2 a.m.
An attorney representing UCLA basketball great and Henderson resident Ed O’Bannon in a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA had strong words on a decision by college athletics' governing body to part ways with longtime video game partner EA Sports.
Michael Hausfeld, whose firm is leading O’Bannon’s lawsuit, called the NCAA’s Tuesday decision “arrogant” and “petty” over the breakup with EA Sports. O’Bannon, the star of UCLA’s 1995 national championship team, is suing the NCAA for using his likeness in one of EA Sports’ college basketball games.
“They know full well they were allowing (EA Sports) to circumvent their rules, so they can reap the entire revenue with the exclusion of the players,” Hausfeld said.
The NCAA released a statement Tuesday explaining its decision to leave EA Sports.
“We are confident in our legal position regarding the use of our trademarks in video games,” the NCAA said. “But given the current business climate and costs of litigation, we determined participating in this game is not in the best interests of the NCAA.”
While NCAA video games typically don’t have the names, images or likeliness of athletes, a lot of can be implied. In "NCAA Basketball 09," O’Bannon and his UCLA teammates aren’t listed on a “classic team,” but it’s easy to decipher which players are part of the legendary Bruins squad. The character resembling “PF-31” is similar to the 6-foot-8 O’Bannon — the player shoots left-handed, plays power forward and has O'Bannon's jersey -- No. 31.
EA Sports in 2009 released its last college basketball game because of poor sales, but still produces an annual college football game which is widely popular. It also doesn’t list players by name.
In the lawsuit, O’Bannon is arguing that players (both former and current) deserve monetary compensation for the use of their names and likenesses from live broadcasts, memorabilia sales and video games. Others included in the game’s classic feature, such as greats Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson, college standouts in the 1950s, have joined him in the lawsuit and are also represented by Hausfeld’s firm.
“My friend said, ‘The funny thing about this is you didn’t get paid,’” O’Bannon, who works in marketing at Findlay Toyota, told the Sun in 2010. “He laughed pretty good and I just sat there thinking, ‘Wow, that’s true.’ My reaction was a little bit of embarrassment, but I was also disappointed that no one told me that they were going to be using my likeness to make this video game. They never sent me any paperwork. I didn’t release my face or my likeness.”
A trial is tentatively scheduled for 2014. A judge recently ruled that current NCAA athletes could be listed as plaintiffs in the suit.
The NCAA addressed this in its release Tuesday, stating, “The NCAA has never licensed the use of current student-athlete names, images or likenesses to EA. The NCAA has no involvement in licenses between EA and former student-athletes.”
Despite losing the NCAA branding, EA Sports still plans on producing its annual college football game. The Collegiate Licensing Company, which isn’t affiliated with the NCAA, does all the licensing for conferences, awards such as the Heisman Trophy and bowl games and has an arrangement with EA Sports.
“EA Sports will continue to develop and publish college football games, but we will no longer include the NCAA names and marks,” the company said in a statement. “Our relationship with the Collegiate Licensing Company is strong, and we are already working on a new game for the next generation consoles, which will launch next year and feature the college teams, conferences and all the innovation fans expect from EA Sports.”
Hausfeld added: “This might lead to even better games that EA can produce without the unlawful restrictions imposed on them by the NCAA.”