The only sports video game in my apartment is Fox Sports College Basketball 99, which features (I think) Mark Pope on the label. It’s for a Nintendo 64 that doesn’t connect to my television, and thus hasn’t been played in years. I can’t say I miss it that much — and I’m proud to have removed even one distraction from my life — but I do remember that, despite the players having no names, I was able to suss out who was whom, and rely on the players I liked the most when playing the game. That usually meant a heavy dose of Terp vintage Steve Francis and (for a reason I’ve forgotten, probably on purpose) Jumaine Jones’ University of Georgia iteration. It didn’t require much detective work to figure out which player was which. Although I had to look up a picture of Mark Pope to ascertain that, for whatever reason, it actually probably was him on the game’s label.
And while sports video games have (presumably) come a long way since then, it’s still easy to figure out which player is which in college sports video games — they wear the same numbers, are the same (virtual) size, share the same states and on-field attributes as their real-world counterparts. Downloadable user-compiled rosters taking the guesswork out of the equation entirely. Now, thanks to a class-action lawsuit brought against EA Sports by former Arizona State and Nebraska QB Sam Keller (above), there’s a chance college players might see a piece of the (huge, green-colored) pie for the first time, MediaPost’s Wendy Davis reports.
The story has been around for around a week, apparently, which means that while I’m just now finding out about it — imagine how long it would’ve taken me if I still played video games — there’s already plenty of reaction around the internet. Much of it is pretty dumb bro-blogger stuff — if you want to read a post entitled “Oh STFU Sam Keller” that doubles illustration of what it would read like if a With Leather comment could fart words, knock yourself out — but Yahoo’s Matt Hinton thinks that, sisyphusean though it might be, Keller is right to try rolling this particular rock up this particular hill:
Should athletes, who are strictly prohibited at great peril to their education and future from earning any money from their status, have any financial stake in the fortunes being made from selling their likeness?
This is a little bit different that asking flatly, “should college players be paid?” — that lawsuit is still winding its way though the labyrinth — because the money schools take in from television and ticket sales, etc., are technically for a team sport; fans pay to see the team, which in turn “compensates” the members of the team with free tuition, room and board, etc. Maybe you disagree, but it’s an argument.
I’m harder pressed to find any justification whatsoever, though, for private entities that profit from a player’s identity — be it through video games, jersey sales, magazine covers, you name it — with no obligation to the player whatsoever, financial or otherwise. Reggie Bush once claimed he could have made $100,000 off sales of his No. 5 jersey at USC, which might be a conservative estimate; it didn’t have his name on it, but when someone buys No. 5 in cardinal and gold (or No. 15 in blue and orange, or No. 10 in burnt orange, or No. 2 in scarlet and gray … you get the picture), they know whose image they’re assuming, in the same way video game players know who they’re controlling — in most cases, they probably go ahead and enter the name, anyway. Maybe if your campus heroes were allowed to make an honest buck off their talents like everyone else, they wouldn’t have to resort to the dishonest kind.