Ed O'Bannon vs. The NCAA: EA Sports producer admits to using player likenesses in games

Tyler Kaufman-US PRESSWIRE

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the NCAA still denies it's a duck.

An EA Sports producer admitted under oath that the company replicates current players in its NCAA sports games, according to a report from Jon Solomon of AL.com:

Jeremy Strauser, who worked at EA from 1995 until 2011, testified last December that computer-game avatars were linked to specific player identifying numbers and biographical information, such as team depth charts, was used to make the game realistic.

"We generally tried to make the players perform as their real life counterparts, short of their name and likeness," Strauser testified.

Strauser later testified that he believed player identification numbers were assigned alphabetically to a team's roster, begging the question of what could have been alphabetized if there were no player names attached to EA's avatars. Additionally, an EA Sports executive vice president told attorneys that the NCAA approved the use of number-for-number player rosters. Solomon adds that email records show EA pushed for use of player names, but was denied by the NCAA on account of eligibility rules.

The use of player likenesses -- height, weight, hometown, race, uniform number, etc. -- without assigned names has been a staple of the EA Sports NCAA Football franchise for years, a fact the NCAA privately acknowledged. Publicly, the organization has denied any use of players in video games. When Sam Keller, a 2009 Nebraska quarterback, pointed out these facts in his Complaint, the NCAA publicly denied the use of "names and pictures" but did not go so far as to deny the use of player likenesses:

"Our agreement with EA Sports clearly prohibits the use of names and pictures of current student-athletes in their electronic games. We are confident that no such use has occurred."

The admission by EA Sports will likely have little to no effect on the hearing to determine class status in June. Should Keller and O'Bannon pursue their suits irrespective of the outcome of that hearing, however, the admission by Strauser could be the statement that cements the plaintiffs' likeness allegations.

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