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Return of NCAA Football video game could help college players in many ways

Mike Florio

With the NCAA exploring at political gunpoint the possibility of finally letting college football and basketball players profit from their names, likenesses, and images, many quickly became excited about the potential return of the NCAA Football video game franchise.

Abandoned by EA once it became clear that EA and the NCAA could no longer profit from digital players simulating the names, likenesses, and images of their real-life counterparts (and of course widely blamed on “the lawyers” and not on EA and the NCAA for unfairly taking that money from those who deserved it), letting players get compensated for names, likenesses, and images would lay the foundation for bringing it back. EA, indeed, is interested in rebooting the brand. But having the ability to pay the players what they rightfully deserve would be only the first step.

Without a union to sell the name, likeness, and image rights of college football players on a widespread basis, EA and the NCAA would have to put a mechanism in place for getting each and every player to agree to terms. Many will simply sign on the dotted line and take whatever measly check they are offered. Others may hold out for much more. Some may refuse to sign at all.

The entire process would become far more efficient if all college football players belonged to an organization with the power to negotiate on their behalf. And therein would reside true power, legal and political.

While efforts to unionize college athletes have failed, nothing prevents them from forming a group that would have the power to advance their interests and to negotiate collective marketing rights with EA and anyone else who wants to use their names, likeness, and images on a widespread basis. That group also could try to secure better terms for players with the NFL, even if it would have no specific bargaining power with respect to the labor deal.

Retired pro football players have aligned to force a seat at the table for CBA talks, even if the NFL owes them no current legal obligations. The league still acknowledges its former players, largely for P.R. purposes, when it comes to deciding how the overall pie will be divided. If the league’s future players formed a similar group, it could force its way into the room and advocate zealously for those who have no say in potentially dramatic alterations to their eventual rights.

In 2011, for example, the league pushed through a rookie wage scale. Aimed ostensibly at ensuring more money would be available for veterans, the dramatic reduction in overall compensation to incoming players created an incentive to skew rosters younger and cheaper, to the detriment of veterans. Also, the draft continues to force new players to accept employment from a company for which those new players may not wish to work, ripping them potentially thousands of miles away from family and friends with no say in the matter, short of sitting out a full season and re-entering the draft pool.

Even if those new players have few if any legal rights, the creation of a group that would advance their legal rights in college could then try to do the same for the professional level, using all available means to pressure the NFL and the NFL Players Association to account for a critical group of athletes who are consistently ignored.

So, basically, letting college football players make money from their names, likenesses, and images could lead in time to the emergence of a group that will help college football players force their way into making more money once they enter the NFL. While that would complicate the efforts of the NFL and NFLPA to maintain labor peace, that labor peace would never come at the expense of the future new members of the workforce.