David Arnold put his limbs and joints on the line for Northwestern football. The former Wildcat linebacker always thought he should have been compensated for balancing the duties of a student with those of an athlete on the NCAA’s watch. Now, thanks to EA Sports’ legal settlement with student-athletes over the use of their likeness in the NCAA Football video game series, a paycheck may well be on the way. The compensation — $40 million to benefit between 200,000 and 300,000 current and former NCAA athletes — will be the first Arnold gets from the NCAA having held his the rights to his image in college. It’s about time, and here’s hoping that more money heads Arnold’s way down the road.
The NCAA’s iron-fisted grip over its student-athletes has long allowed it to prevent any athlete from benefiting financially from their image and likeness, leaving the huge potential earnings to be solely in the domain of the NCAA. Now, with EA Sports pulling the plug on the series, a major pillar has fallen in the NCAA’s monetization of football. EA Sports cited its close following of NCAA guidelines, saying, “We follow rules that are set by the NCAA — but those rules are being challenged by some student-athletes.” And there’s the kicker: there has been an establishment of precedent that student-athletes indeed do have a personal image that is their property.
The NCAA has long cited amateurism as its main defense in this system, arguing that the benefits of a free education alone justifies having rights to student-athletes’ images. After all, their non-athlete peers aren’t provided with such an encompassing opportunity. It’s an argument Arnold has never bought.
“Being a student athlete is a full-time job,” says Arnold. “Yes, the student part technically comes first, but it could probably be easily mixed up for athlete-student, especially now. The two go hand in hand.” Arnold also believes that with all the hours that athletes put into their craft, it strongly differentiates their learning experience from those of regular students.
To Arnold, the fact of the matter is that “the NCAA makes a ridiculous dollar figure off college football.” With EA Sports now bowing out of the legal mess that it foresees ahead in between the NCAA and student-athlete branding, the money machine could soon be rewired. Let's hope so. The end of this exploitative work culture can't come soon enough.