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EA Sports to settle with NCAA athletes for $40 million

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A $40 million settlement has been completed that will pay college football and basketball players dating to 2003 for the use of their likenesses in NCAA-branded video games.

The payouts could go to more than 100,000 athletes, including some current players, who were either on college rosters or had their images used in videogames made by Electronic Arts featuring college teams. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say it would be the first time college athletes will be paid for the commercial use of their images.

Depending on how many athletes apply for the settlement, the payments could range from as little as $48 for each year an athlete was on a roster to $951 for each year the image of an athlete was used in a videogame.

"We're incredibly pleased with the results of this settlement and the opportunity to right a huge wrong enacted by the Indianapolis-based NCAA and EA against these players and their rights of publicity," said Steve Berman, one of the lead attorneys in the case. "We've fought against intense legal hurdles since filing this case in 2009 and to see this case come to fruition is a certain victory."

The settlement is with Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing Co., which licenses and markets college sports, and does not include the NCAA. The case against the NCAA is scheduled for trial early next year.

Plaintiffs in the case, which dates to 2009, contend the NCAA conspired with Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing Co. to illegally use their images in videogames.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken still must approve the proposed settlement, which comes on the eve of a major antitrust trial against the NCAA that could reshape the way college sports operate. That case, featuring former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon and others as lead plaintiffs, goes to trial June 9 in Oakland, California.

According to documents filed with the court late Friday, attorneys for O'Bannon and 20 other plaintiffs say they have already run up legal fees exceeding $30 million and expenses of more than $4 million in pressing their case. They are seeking an injunction that would stop the NCAA from enforcing rules that prohibit athletes from profiting from their play in college.

O'Bannon, who led UCLA to a national title in 1995, is also part of the group settling with EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Co. Also covered by the settlement are suits brought by former Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller, former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston and former Rutgers player Ryan Hart.

According to the filing, a pool of money will be available to players after attorneys take 33 percent of the proposed settlement and up to $2.5 million in expenses. Named plaintiffs like O'Bannon and Keller will receive $15,000, while others who joined the suit later would get $2,500 or $5,000.

The majority of the money, however, will go to athletes who file for claims, a group that attorneys say could contain between 140,000 and 200,000 players who were on football and basketball rosters from 2003 on. The final payouts will depend on how many of those athletes file claims in the class-action case.

EA Sports announced last year it would stop making the long-running NCAA football videogame series because of the litigation and other issues in securing licensing rights.

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