SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has dismissed video game maker Electronic Arts Inc. from a high-profile antitrust lawsuit challenging the NCAA’s long-standing prohibition against paying student athletes for their performance.
But U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken on Monday refused to drop the bulk of the case, which accuses the NCAA and its marketing company of operating an illegal sports marketing monopoly. Led by former UCLA basketball standout Ed O’Bannon, former athletes allege they are forced to forever sign away their commercial rights to play collegiate sports.
The judge refused to dismiss the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing Co. from the lawsuit that seeks to become a class action representing thousands of former football and basketball players who say the NCAA illegally controls their images forever without compensation.
The NCAA responds that players are free to make commercial deals after they leave college. NCAA policy prohibits players from receiving compensation while they are playing.
The judge said there is enough evidence to continue the litigation. But she said Monday that there was no evidence that Redwood City-based EA conspired with the NCAA to deny the players compensation and she dismissed the company from the lawsuit.
The O’Bannon case and another led by former Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller are being closely watched because of their potential to dramatically reshape the commercial relationship between the NCAA and its athletes. Keller’s lawsuit also alleges that the NCAA is unfairly depriving athletes of their share of revenues generated by their performances. But Keller’s lawsuit makes different legal arguments, claiming the NCAA is violating the players’ commercial rights when it refuses to cut them in on marketing deals using their images. The Keller lawsuit also names EA as a defendant.
Last year, Wilken refused to dismiss EA from the Keller case. EA has appealed that decision.