Pay players for likeness? Big Ten stars give adamant 'yes'
By JESSE TEMPLE
CHICAGO -- In one corner, a multi-billion dollar industry has continued churning a profit by capitalizing on an ability to market its talent for the masses. In the other corner, the talent that helps generate such a large profit for said industry earns nothing in return.
Seem like a fair juxtaposition?
Not to a group of six current college football players, who last Thursday decided to take a stand. The group added their names to a class-action lawsuit originally brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon, and their involvement could change the economic model of college sports.
For the uninitiated, O'Bannon and a list of plaintiffs are claiming the NCAA, EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Co., violated antitrust laws by preventing college football and basketball players from being compensated from video games and other products that use their names, likenesses and images. The ongoing lawsuit, originally filed in 2009 on behalf of former players, was amended last year to include current players. But it wasn't until last week that the first active athletes joined the cause as plaintiffs, which could create the possibility of damages being awarded in the billions of dollars on behalf of other current players.
The players added are: Minnesota senior tight end Moses Alipate and Minnesota senior wide receiver Victor Keise, Clemson senior cornerback Darius Robinson, Vanderbilt senior linebacker Chase Garnham, Arizona senior linebacker Jake Fischer and Arizona senior kicker Jake Smith.
On Wednesday, Big Ten football players weighed in on the topic during the conference's media days. And some expressed strong feelings about the fight to be paid for their work.
"Obviously there's guys that come from good backgrounds that are affluent," Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland said. "But other guys are eating PB and J and ramen noodles more than they should based off what they contribute."
Borland noted one of the most difficult challenges for college athletes was convincing a skeptical public of their right to be paid. Many student-athletes in the Football Bowl Subdivision earn full-ride scholarships and in that regard are "paid" more than six figures in scholarships over the course of their college careers.
"It's difficult to talk about because we have it good," Borland said. "People aren't going to feel sorry for college athletes. That's really kind of a side issue. Everyone should be given their fair share of what they create, regardless of if you're in a good situation or not."
The National College Players Association (NCPA) and the Drexel University Sport Management Department recently released findings from a joint study showing FBS football and men's basketball players would receive an additional $6 billion between 2011-15 if not for the NCAA's prohibition of a fair market.
According to the study, it used "publicly available information to determine the fair market value of football and basketball players, the value they receive from their full scholarships, and the amount of money that revenue producing athletes would receive in a fair market."
The study showed the average football and men's basketball players from BCS conferences would receive an average of more than $714,000 and $1.5 million, respectively, above and beyond the value of their full athletic scholarships over the four years between 2011-15.
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who said he had written papers on the subject in college, noted even a small stipend for student-athletes would make life easier. Scheelhaase got married earlier this month and is feeling the financial crunch.
"There's a part that you know an organization is making a ton of money off you by producing a video game with you on it, and you really don't see any of that," Scheelhaase said. "I think every player understands that and kind of wishes there was something that could be done about that."
Scheelhaase added: "After just getting married these last couple weeks, all of a sudden you're not just thinking about yourself and trying to eat Chipotle week to week. You're thinking about how you're buying for two. A lot of things are just different being in our shoes."
Penn State sophomore defensive end Deion Barnes, last season's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, expressed his displeasure about the situation Monday on his Twitter account. Among his tweets: "The first years I was excited to have myself on NCAA football but now I c they making money off me and everybody on that game, I need a chec(k)."
Of course, not every Big Ten player has been following the lawsuit or is as outspoken as Borland, Scheelhaase and Barnes.
"We get gear, get an education, get scholarship checks," Illinois defensive end Tim Kynard said Wednesday. "We're getting paid. I know some other athletes like to have a little more because you're on a video game. But we get enough with scholarships."
Added Nebraska wide receiver Quincy Enunwa: "Everybody is going to tell you you're getting an education. That's why I don't like to make a big deal out of it. At the end of the day, if I do as well as I can with my education, I can make just as much money as they're making off of me. Hopefully. That's the goal.
"They sell our jerseys. They sell all types of other stuff. The NCAA made their rules and they knew what they were doing when they made the rules so they could keep their money. I'm not going to complain. That's just how it is. I'm only here for four years and then I can make money."
The plaintiffs in the case contend that spreadsheets show EA Sports matched the video-game avatar to a real player, including jersey number, position, hometown and year of eligibility. The NCAA, meanwhile, has argued against certifying a class-action lawsuit by claiming it had not violated any antitrust laws.
But the website SBNation.com recently compared uniform numbers and physical characteristics of the top player on each of the 126 NCAA teams included in this year's game. It found 124 of those players played the same position as their real-life counterparts, 122 players had an identical height, and all 126 players were from the same home state as the real-life counterpart.
It also found that 78 of 126 players had an identical height, weight, position and home state as the current real-life player wearing the same jersey number.
Few cases against the NCAA have made it this far in the court system, and if plaintiffs get full class certification, the NCAA could face significant pressure to reach a settlement and avoid larger damages at a trial.
The NCAA cut ties with EA Sports last week, which would seem to indicate the increased likelihood of a future settlement. Whatever the outcome, Big Ten football players will be paying close attention.
"Hopefully something will develop," Borland said. "I don't think any of us in this room will feel the effects of it. But hopefully down the road, guys will get what they deserve."
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