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NCAA could be preparing for court loss by cutting EA Sports ties

Former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon is spearheading a lawsuit claiming the NCAA has used athletes' names and likenesses in video games, television broadcasts and other platforms without proper compensation.
(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)

By dropping ties with a prominent video-game maker, the NCAA could be showing signs of worry about its chances in a major civil lawsuit.

In a statement released this week, the governing body cited “the current business climate and costs of litigation” in announcing it will not renew its contract with EA Sports after the current one expires in June 2014.

Former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon is spearheading a suit claiming the NCAA has used athletes’ names and likenesses in video games, television broadcasts and other platforms without proper compensation.

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If a Northern California federal judge decides the O’Bannon case can become a class-action suit -- including former and current athletes -- damages could total billions of dollars.

“We are confident in our legal position” the NCAA statement read, but at least one expert wondered if that is true.

“The NCAA may foresee that it will not be able to collect licensing fees from EA Sports for much longer without sharing the revenues with former and current student athletes,” said Michael Marrero, an intellectual property partner in the firm of Ulmer & Berne, who has followed the case.

“If that’s the eventual outcome of O’Bannon v. NCAA, the deal may no longer be as lucrative for the NCAA,” Marrero said. “And any licensing fees that the NCAA continues to collect will only enhance the plaintiffs’ damages claims.”

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EA reportedly plans to market a new game using logos of schools such as Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon. But this week’s developments might create a rush among fans of the company’s popular NCAA Football series, if only because the 2014 edition might the last of its kind.

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