Sunday, May 10, 2009

What color is the NCAA's laundry?

Sam Keller, former Nebraska and Arizona State quarterback, has filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA and video game maker EA Sports for their alleged appropriation of student athlete images in their football and basketball video games. While the games do not use the actual names of the student athletes, the suit cites techniques used to signify who players on the screen represent, such as the individuals height, weight, jersey number, home state, as well as wrist bands, head bands and other distinguishing features that appear to reflect the real-life version of the corresponding person. The student athletes are not compensated by EA Sports, the NCAA or their institution.

The lawsuit presents an interesting juxtaposition to an issue covered in one of the earliest UltimateSportsInsider.com posts - the NCAA's expressed concern but inaction over the use of student athletes' statistics for fantasy sports leagues, including one run by broadcast partner and NCAA revenue producer CBS Sports. The worry was that such use would further erode the ideal of student athletes as amateurs.



In the case of fantasy sports, the NCAA as well as the Knight Commission view the use of statistics such as batting average, free throw shooting percentage and the number of tackles as commercializing athletes and eroding the amateurism ideal. At the same time, the NCAA permits EA Sports and collegiate licensing groups to create computerized images with identifying characteristics.



In the case of video games, the NCAA and member institutions profit through licensing revenue. The NCAA and member institutions have not developed revenue streams from fantasy sports.

In today's computer driven world, video games have become a very tangible type of fantasy sports league in that the participant gets to control the outcome. In a traditional fantasy sports league, the fantasy participant actually has far less control, acting as a "general manager" or "coach" while attempting to discern which individual is most likely to produce meaningful statistics. As I have written previously (related to agents and the Andrew Oliver case), the NCAA continues to construct pragmatic, but philosophically challenging positions around notions of amateurism.


Amateurism and commercialism are bleeding together - just as colors do when throwing a red sock into a load of white laundry. When the clothes come out they have an unmistakable pink tint. No matter how much you try to get the clothes back to their original color or try to convince yourself that the color isn't pink, it doesn't change the reality. And when it comes to amateurism, it seems like the red socks of commercialism keep showing up on a regular basis.

No comments: