The Longhorns can be 6-0 if you have a video game controller in your hand. But in real life, the Longhorns are 2-4, and a new edition of Electronic Arts’ NCAA Football hasn’t been released for two years.
Trademark licensing from conferences and the NCAA has created issues for EA Sports, but uncertainties surrounding player likeness lawsuits like O’Bannon vs. NCAA provide the biggest source of anxiety for not only EA Sports but college football as a whole.
Currently, the O’Bannon case represents the biggest threat to the NCAA amateurism structure. The initial case, brought forth by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon in 2009, regarded the NCAA’s profit from the names and likenesses of former student-athletes. The case has since been expanded to include all NCAA Division I football and men’s basketball players.
On Aug. 8, 2014, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken determined that men’s basketball and football players should receive a $5,000 stipend.
However, last September, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the $5,000 student-athlete stipend while upholding the ruling that the NCAA is violating antitrust laws. In doing so, this ruling reinforces the amateurism model that the organization continues to sell to the public.
Despite its overall lack of legal success, the O’Bannon lawsuit is viewed by many as the first domino in the fall of the NCAA.
In a proactive measure, the University has increased the scholarship money received by student-athletes from $21,552 to $25,862. This is far from the $10,000 amount that former athletic director Steve Patterson proposed had the NCAA lost the O’Bannon case. But it is an attempt to reconcile the existence of the student-athlete in a billion-dollar business.
The University is a major player in the business. According to reports from the Associated Press, the University of Texas and Nike have agreed to a 15-year, $200 million licensing and apparel deal. That's $13.3 million per year in revenue — on top of media rights deals, the Longhorn Network and the athletic program itself.
With that said, each student-athlete deserves more than $4,310 in spending money. A lot more.
After quarterback Jerrod Heard's record-setting performance against California, he deserved the opportunity to capitalize on it. Whether that's through selling his autograph or appearing in a Nike commercial, Heard should have that opportunity. Increasing those rights is a practical, free-market solution that would allow the NCAA and the rest of the billion-dollar college sports business to exist. Heard can earn the extra money he deserves, but the University will not suffer financially.
Texas is one of the most valuable brands in college football. The student-athletes who have built that brand deserve to profit, too.