In an abrupt and unforeseen move out of left field, the NCAA recently announced that they would be severing ties with EA Sports, the video game development company responsible for NCAA themed games. This means that the upcoming NCAA Football 2014 will be the final video game that will feature the NCAA name and logo. Representatives of the NCAA have stated that their present business climate does not warrant any further involvement in the gaming industry. To put it mildly, it is unsettlingly odd that the Collegiate Athletic Association would so brusquely pull the plug on a business endeavor that has earned them $1.3 billion on Football titles alone since 1998. The explanation lies in a recent legal dispute involving the NCAA’s extensive earnings.
Ed O’Bannon v. NCAA is a pending lawsuit that is being spearheaded by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon. O’Bannon has claimed that EA Sports’ NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball titles use images and similarities to real life college players, but do not grant them any compensation. This is because under NCAA rules, student athletes are not permitted to receive payment for their participation in sports related activity. However, should the NCAA lose to O’Bannon and his supporters, they would owe hundreds of millions of dollars to current, and former athletes who have been indirectly referenced in their games. It is probable that the NCAA has halted the video game production in order to both soften the financial blow should they lose their case, and to sway the court ruling in their favor. Though the league is attempting to save face by jumping the video game ship, the hasty move may accomplish just the opposite by making them look all the more guilty.
Regardless of motives and outcomes, the recent happenings spark a debate of ethics in college sports. Is it exploitive for the NCAA to pocket millions of dollars at the expense of their young athletes who do not see a dime? It is true that student athletes receive a free education in exchange for their services to their universities, but some sort of monetary compensation may also be warranted? Student athletes are spread thin with classes, team meetings, practices, and road trips, making them unable to work should they find themselves in need of money. Surely no harm could come from providing these students with a weekly allowance at the very least.
The debate on paying student athletes is much more messy than it would seem, as it harbors much grey area. Would a benchwarmer receive just as much money as the top recruit? Would less popular sports such as volleyball receive just as much money for athletes as football or men’s basketball? And possibly most controversial, would female athletes receive as much payment as male athletes? Questions such as these are a testament to the massive headache that surely lies between student athletes and financial compensation. Yet, though it may be far down the road when we see at least a small portion of profits being shared with college athletes, the recent decision to abandon video game sales appears to illustrate that the NCAA is, at the very least, beginning to question its own financial ethics.