The NCAA can’t get out of the news, and it’s not because of the actual games on the field. Instead of celebrating tantalizing talents like Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel, the fans’ focus has shifted to the NCAA potentially colluding with video-game giant Electronic Arts to make billions off their cash-cow student-athletes.
The biggest threat to the NCAA is currently the class action anti-trust lawsuit brought on by Ed O’Bannon, a star basketball player for UCLA in the 1990s.
O’Bannon contends that the NCAA and EA, which makes popular video games “NCAA Football” and “NCAA March Madness,” together artificially set the price of a student-athlete’s likeness at $0. On an open market, the players’ likenesses would undoubtedly be worth more than that.
The NCAA doesn’t pay student-athletes, who must sign a waiver that forfeits their right to make money off their own likeness as NCAA athletes. Receiving payment would make them professionals, and professionals can’t play in an amateur sport—an amateur sport that nets more than $6 billion in revenues annually.
While the O’Bannon suit could revolutionize the way all college sports operate, an impact has already been felt on Vanderbilt’s campus: senior linebacker Chase Garnham has joined lawsuit as a plaintiff.
Five other current student-athletes also joined Garnham in the lawsuit: Arizona’s Jake Fischer and Jake Smith, Clemson’s Darius Robertson, and Minnesota’s Moses Alipate and Victor Kiese.
The proceedings won’t affect Garnham’s eligibility, however, and he will be a key cog in the Commodores’ defense this year. Garnham, who is not answering questions about the case at this time, was second on the team with 84 tackles last year and led the team with seven sacks.
Although the lawsuit is far from nearing an end—the trial is set for July 9, 2014—signals that O’Bannon and Co. may end up winning are already visible. Last month, the NCAA ended its partnership with EA and will not license an “NCAA Football 15” game.
Adding two and two together, it’s clear that the NCAA does not want to run the risk of having to pay thousands of student-athletes for the right to their likeness, should O’Bannon win the lawsuit.
Another potential impact of the O’Bannon lawsuit is that players would receive royalties from revenue coming from merchandise and broadcast rights.
Previously, the NCAA claimed that they just sold generic jerseys, although nearly every jersey sold in the Vanderbilt book store last year was No. 2 or No. 11, which happen to be the same numbers worn by starting running back Zac Stacy and quarterback Jordan Rodgers, respectively.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas debunked the laughable claim earlier this month when he exposed that you could search for players’ names on ShopNCAAsports.com and find specific player jerseys. Three days later, the NCAA announced they would stop selling jerseys because, as NCAA president Mark Emmert put it, they can “certainly recognize why that could be seen as hypocritical.”
All of this means that schools may have to skimp on other aspects of the athletic experience. Maybe schools like Oregon will have to put a few less Milanese-furnished barbershops and pool tables in their $86 million football facilities.
The landscape of college athletics could undergo some massive changes in the near future, and Chase Garnham will play a large role in the lawsuit. For now, though, he’ll be just another key player on Vanderbilt’s defense.
(This first appeared in the Vanderbilt Hustler)