World and Nation

EA sports settles lawsuit with college athletes

EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Co., two defendants in a lawsuit filed by student-athletes seeking to be paid, have settled their roles in the case, according to a federal court filing Thursday.

The filing came just after EA Sports announced on its website that it would not publish its popular college football video game in 2014 and that it was working to settle the lawsuit with the athletes.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed in the filing, but if approved, the settlement would appear to leave the NCAA as the lone remaining defendant in the high-profile litigation.

EA Sports’ decision not to make the college football video game came after the NCAA and three major conferences cut ties with the game over the summer and after calls for college athletes to share in the proceeds of big-time university athletics had grown louder.

“We have been stuck in the middle of a dispute between the NCAA and student-athletes who seek compensation for playing college football,” Cam Weber, EA Sports’ general manager for American football, wrote on the company’s website Thursday. “Just like companies that broadcast college games and those that provide equipment and apparel, we follow rules that are set by the NCAA — but those rules are being challenged by some student-athletes.”

EA Sports’ decision to move away from the game signifies a departure from its earlier position: The company had publicly said that it would move forward with a game next year, even after the NCAA said in mid-July that it was backing out.

In August, three major conferences — the Southeastern, the Big Ten and the Pacific-12 Conferences — also moved away from the game. The lack of support - coupled with the pending lawsuit, by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon - left EA Sports “in a difficult position,” Weber said.

The settlement, which was first reported online by The Birmingham News, signals a turning point in the case, which began more than four years ago.

The NCAA has defended itself, saying that it “has never licensed the use of current student-athlete names, images or likenesses to EA.”

Michael Hausfeld, a lawyer for the athletes, said he could not discuss the terms of the settlement. But he said it would not be an “unreasonable inference” to conclude that the student-athletes might now have the support of EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Co., which handles rights licensing for many universities.