As of right now, collegiate student-athletes are not eligible to receive any sort of monetary compensation for their athletic feats of strength. That, however, just might change very shortly.

A North Carolina congressman has announced that he has proposed a bill that would allow NCAA student-athletes to profit off of their own name and likeness. This could not only be a major moment for NCAA athletes to make money off of their name, but also could pave the way for their likenesses to be used in NCAA video games once again.

Background

In 2009, Ed O’Bannon, a former NCAA basketball player with UCLA, filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, alleging that thousands of former and current NCAA basketball and football players had their names and likenesses illegally used in video games, DVD’s, apparel and memorabilia. The NCAA, in response, argued that they did nothing wrong, as they said that it did not “license student-athletes likeness or prevent former student-athletes from attempting to do so.”

The NCAA would lose to O’Bannon and his legal team in 2014, giving athletes a huge win and ensuring that student-athletes do in fact own their own name and likeness, even after leaving college.

Electronic Arts, who developed the NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball video game series, was dismissed from the lawsuit in 2011 after being previously named in it by O’Bannon and his legal team as being part of a conspiracy to deny ex-players compensation. However, Judge Claudia Wilken reversed course shortly thereafter, citing allegations that EA agreed to not pay former college athletes once their careers ended.

After e-mails came out that revealed that the NCAA knew that EA games were made to resemble former and current college athletes, it was clear that EA was in a no-win situation. In 2013, EA and the Collegiate Licensing Committee came to an agreement to settle with O’Bannon and the rest of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, coming to a total of $40M USD. This effectively ended the NCAA Football series, with the last gaming being NCAA Football 14, which came out four years after the last installment of the NCAA Basketball series, NCAA Basketball 10.

Student-Athlete Equity Act

Mark Walker, a Republican congressman from North Carolina, has proposed a bill called the Student-Athlete Equity Act, allowing student-athletes to profit off their own name and likeness by modifying “the definition of a qualified amateur sports organization in the tax code.” Walker has previously called on the NCAA to change its rules to allow student-athletes to receive monetary compensation from outside entities for their athletic work and has considered introducing legislation since 2016.

Walker, a former college athlete himself, said that the current set-up denies student-athletes from ever being compensated off of their talents. Walker also cited the free market system for this decision, adding:

“It’s just odd that in our free market system that this is the one area where we say, ‘No. We’ll let you make money for the university, but you can’t have any access to your name or likeness. This is an earning opportunity for 99 percent of these student athletes who will never have another access to do something like this. It’s in that moment that your earning opportunity is prime.”

You can read the full bill here.

What Does This Mean For the Future of College Sports Video Games?

This bill should give people who have been craving for the return NCAA Football or NCAA Basketball some hope that the games could return once again.

By allowing student-athletes to profit off of their own name and likeness while they are enrolled in university, this could allow game developers to negotiate individually with players in order to add their name and image to video games. As of now, this can’t occur, but this bill could pave the way for players’ names and likeness to be added to future NCAA video games. However, this task may not be easy at all.

Under this set-up proposed by Rep. Walker, players, as opposed to player associations in pro sports, would directly negotiate with developers. A standout college basketball player such as Zion Williamson would most likely want a considerable amount of money in order for his likeness to be added to any game and could command much more than, say, a sixth man on a non Power-Five college team. This setup would be similar to when Barry Bonds opted out of the MLBPA licensing deals when he was still playing, opting to make his own deals so that he could keep all of the money he negotiated to himself. This could be quite a pricey venture for game developers, and may or may not be worth it if developers don’t feel a profit can be made.

Still, this bill, if passed, could be a huge boost for gamers who have been looking for NCAA Football or NCAA Basketball to return. It may not mean a game will come out immediately, but it could certainly pave the way.

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