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NIL, College Athletes, and a Beloved Video Game. Is EA In Over Their Heads?

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

Image via EA Sports

In November of 2022, Electronic Arts (EA) announced the return of the infamous NCAA Football video game with a rough release date for the summer of 2023. Since then, there have been many question marks and not a lot of answers.

For background, EA was sued by many college athletes, most notably by Ed O'Bannon, for not receiving payment from EA when using their likeness within the video game. The company eventually settled with the athletes for $60 million dollars. Ed O'Bannon didn't stop there. He went to court to fight the NCAA rule that players could not profit from their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL). In 2014, a judge ruled in O'Bannon's favor. This meant there was nothing EA could do to continue the NCAA Football series without the NCAA allowing NIL to become profitable for its players.

Fast forward to June 30th, 2021. After a few years of multiple states passing NIL bills and the NCAA trying their best to prevent this, the NCAA ruled that universities in states where NIL was legal could participate. They insisted that there were still rules and this could not turn into pay-for-play. It has become just that and there is nothing the NCAA can do about it.

How does this all tie into a NCAA Football game? Simple. The choice is pay the players or don't make the game at all. After announcing the initial release date for summer 2023, EA faced many questions as they had a lot of work to do. They needed to set up a way that EA could pay players for what they thought was reasonable to pay. So EA set aside $5,000,000.00 in a pool for players who wanted to opt-in to being featured. This roughly equaled to around $500.00 per player. This is where we begin to see issues. Many of the top players in college football began discussing boycotts and hold-outs due to the small amount of money they would be paid. This didn't speak for all players though. Former Vanderbilt QB now Mississippi State QB, Mike Wright, tweeted, "Man, I'll take $20..." in reference to the EA payments. A lot of players grew up playing this game and want to be in it regardless of the money. The issue is should the bigger names receive more money for being featured?

All this leads to this weeks news. A California based legal group called The Brandr Group filed a lawsuit against EA. The Brandr Group represents 54 Division-I Universities and is suing EA for the rights to be able to negotiate NIL deals between EA and Brandr's clients. Athletes Advantage, who backs UK Football's NIL "collective" 'The 15 Club', came out and endorsed the lawsuit filed by The Brandr Group. They won't be the only NIL company to do so either. These name, image, and likeness companies want to negotiate better deals for their clients and this is a vital step in being able to do so.

At the end of the day, there are thousands of questions and simply put, just not enough answers. Is EA in over their head in the new NIL era? Could this be the end of the new NCAA Football game before it even starts? Only time will tell.

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