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Documents: NCAA showed 'real concern' for using athlete likenesses in games

Ed O'Bannon (above) and the plaintiffs are seeking class-action status in their case against the NCAA. (AP) Ed O'Bannon (above) and the plaintiffs are seeking class-action status in their case against the NCAA. (AP)

By Zac Ellis

Administrators noted "real concern" within the NCAA that use of athletes' likenesses in video games "adds to the argument that student-athletes should be unionized and receive a cut of the profits, etc." according to lawyers representing the plaintiffs in Ed O'Bannon v. the NCAA.

Steve Berkowitz of USA Today reports documents filed Thursday by the plaintiffs cited an email written in 2005 by former NCAA membership services staffer Bo Kerin in their allegations. The documents also allege that Peter Davis, a former NCAA director of corporate alliances, "admitted that there are 'likenesses of student-athletes'" in video games developed by EA Sports. Along with the NCAA, EA Sports and collegiate trademark licensing and marketing firm Collegiate Licensing Co. make up the defendants in the O'Bannon case, in which several former student-athletes are seeking damages for the illegal use of their likenesses by the NCAA.

The plaintiffs believe the evidence supports a combined effort by the defendants to avoid compensating student-athletes. Their lawyers wrote:

"There is a wealth of common evidence from Defendants' own documents and testimony that will be used to show, on a common basis, that EA, CLC and the NCAA colluded to use former and current" athletes' names, images and likenesses "in their videogames without compensation."
Thursday's documents usher in the latest chapter in the case, as plaintiffs continue to seek class-action status. If class-action status is granted, thousands more current and former athletes could join in, and the potential damages could rise into the billions and threaten the existing NCAA model. On June 20, U.S. district judge Claudia Wilken is scheduled to hold a hearing to decide if class-action status is applicable.

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