Sam Keller's career as a quarterback at Arizona State and Nebraska may not have turned out exactly the way he hoped, but he may still make a major impact on the face of college football. Keller is suing EA Sports and the NCAA for the "blatant and unlawful use" of athlete likenesses in the popular NCAA football and basketball video games produced by EA Sports. Anyone who has ever played the game knows that he's got a helluva case.
The rosters of the teams in the game aren't a random mish-mosh of players representing well-known schools. No, they are exact replicas of the actual team rosters with the same uniform numbers, heights, weights and home states. Reporting on the suit, Darren Rovell of CNBC notes the exactness that game designers use when creating the players.
In one example, Keller uses Kent State running back Eugene Jarvis. Jarvis is 5-foot-5, weighs 170 pounds, wears number six and is a redshirt junior from Pennsylvania. In EA's NCAA 2009, the Kent State running back is 5-foot-5, weighs 170 pounds, wears number 6 and is a redshirt junior from Pennsylvania. ... In the 2009 game, former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman is identical to the virtual Freeman, Keller notes, right down to the arm sleeve.
EA and the NCAA claim that not including player names means they aren't stealing the likenesses, but that argument is undermined by the ease with which users can upload full rosters. Once uploaded, the in-game announcers are programmed to say many of the names which is odd for a game that isn't expressly trying to create ultra-realistic likenesses of college athletes.
This isn't a new issue. In Mitch Albom's book "Fab Five," Chris Webber tells a story of scraping together money to eat at an Ann Arbor restaurant that is next door to a store selling his jersey for a nice sum. We now know that Webber and the rest of the Wolverines were well taken care of during their college years, but there's little doubt about the reason why someone would buy a Michigan basketball jersey with #4 on the back.
Keller's suit is a class-action lawsuit, which means many other players may be joining the effort to see their share of monies that the game has created. They certainly deserve their share, because the games wouldn't sell worth squat if not for their uncanny recreation of the players that make college sports tick.