Chase Garnham has plenty to deal with on the gridiron as the leader of Vanderbilt's linebacking corps. Now he's added an extra opponent off the field; the NCAA.
Garnham was one of six active NCAA football players to join Ed O'Bannon's anti-trust lawsuit against college athletics' governing body this week. The senior linebacker is part of a group that is challenging that the NCAA has been violating anti-trust laws by licencing their likenesses without compensation. The biggest culprit, the suit claims, has been the use of (unnamed) player appearances in video games like the NCAA Football series that has been produced by EA Sports. In a surprising move on Wednesday, the NCAA decided to drop their partnership with the gaming giant going forward, though how that decision plays into the pending lawsuit is still unclear.
The Vanderbilt defender was joined by six other active FBS players. Arizona's Jake Fischer and Jake Smith, Clemson's Darius Robertson, and Minnesota's Moses Alipate and Victor Kiese. Fischer and Garnham, both starters for their respective teams, are the two most notable players among the diverse group.
O'Bannon's lawsuit added these current players to join the class-action suit upon request from presiding judge Claudia Wilken. Their presence should bolster a case that previously hinged on O'Bannon's inclusion on special "all-time" rosters in EA's NCAA Basketball franchise. Bringing current athletes into the suit - the players who would stand to benefit the most from a successful lawsuit pertaining to their licensing rights - should drive the price of a potential plaintiff victory into a range that would span billions of dollars. If the judge rules that these players should receive royalties for their appearance in any video game, even despite having their names removed from virtual rosters, then that would create a serious backlash that would force major changes in NCAA policy. Most notably, it would spark a massive overhaul in how student athletes can be compensated by their schools.
The lawsuit doesn't stop at just video game likenesses. The still-unfolding complaint would also tie student-athletes to revenue created from merchandise and broadcasting rights as well. That would create a compensation plan that goes far beyond scholarships and travel stipends, especially for athletes in big money sports like football and basketball. With one ruling, we could see a definite legal response to an age old question - should student-athletes get paid when they play for their universities?
Garnham has cemented his place as a part of history at Dudley Field, and now he's looking to add to that legacy in the courtroom. First, Judge Wilken will have to certify the class behind O'Bannon's lawsuit and expand it to this pool of active players. If that happens, thousands more NCAA athletes will be able to join the former UCLA star's cause. That could be enough of a rising tide to sink an embattled NCAA, or at least cause a rippling reform through the governing body and across all levels of college athletics. What Garnham does on the field this fall will have a major impact on the 90 players that he shares a locker room with. What he did off the field this week could affect an entire generation of college football players for years to come.