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This JZ might end up with some “Dead Presidents”: CHD interviews former LMU player Jon Ziri about the EA video game settlement

On July 16th US District Judge Claudia Wilken approved a $60 million settlement for college football and basketball players regarding a class-action lawsuit that was filed against the NCAA and video game maker Electronic Arts.  The plaintiffs claimed that the names and images of the athletes had been used in video games for years without giving any compensation to the players.  This decision is a big step in the fight for the rights of student-athletes, and could lead to many other types of compensation for college athletes.  CHD got to chat with former Loyola Marymount basketball player Jon Ziri about why he submitted a claim as part of the settlement and what he hopes to do with any money he receives.

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You grew up in Tempe and won the 2002 5A state title at Marcos De Niza High School: what did it mean to you to win a title, and why did you decide to go to college at Loyola Marymount? Winning a title was great: I was teammates with a lot of my friends who I had grown up with, so it was very special to us to finish our high school career with a title. I chose LMU because I liked the coaching staff: I felt we had a chance to build something special.

In the 2006 WCC tourney title game you scored six points in a 1-point loss to Gonzaga: how much of a home-court advantage did the Bulldogs have in Spokane, and did you think Chris Ayer’s shot at the end of the game was going in? Gonzaga had the best facility in the WCC at the time and always sold it out, so I think they were in their comfort zone. However, they were a top-5 team in the nation so I did not think it was that big of a factor. We were able to find Chris inside and he had an opportunity to win the game but unfortunately it did not go our way. I thought we had a shot to make the NCAA tourney until reality kicked in.

As a senior you were named team captain: what is the key to being a good leader? Leadership is a learned behavior. The captain my previous year was a very vocal guy, but since we had a lot of freshmen when I was a senior I tried to lead by example. It is a tough transition for young pups when they go from high school to college.

You twice finished in the top-5 in the conference in steals per game: what is your secret for being a good defender? Part of it is anticipation and reading the scouting report front to back: our coaches always had us well-prepared. Part of it is God-given ability and I was a pretty good athlete at the time.

You currently work for Scottsdale Insurance Company and also an assistant coach at Desert Mountain High School: which gig do you enjoy more, and what do you hope to do in the future? I figured I had to put my degree to use at some point! I have not thought too far ahead just yet but I feel pretty good where I am at right now and I enjoy coaching. Coaching is very volatile at the highest levels where you have to keep moving around every few years unless you are Mike Krzyzewski or Jim Boeheim, but I like the stability that I have right now.

When did you 1st learn about the EA video game lawsuit, and why did you feel that you should be part of the class-action? I first heard about it back in 2009. I have always been a college basketball junkie and remember Ed O’Bannon when he played down the street from me at UCLA. I thought the players should be compensated because everyone else makes money except the players. The broadcasters make a little money, the coaches make a lot of money, and the NCAA makes a ton of money. Since everyone else is getting paid, I think the players who are on the floor should receive their fair market value, as they are the product that people are watching.

Did you ever play an NCAA basketball video game (before they were discontinued in 2013), and do you recall seeing a player who had your name or image? I was never a video game guy but my brother and neighbor down the street played it quite a bit. My neighbor told me that he played the game using my avatar, which I thought was pretty cool. EA has made millions of dollars off the game, so I was pretty intrigued to be part of the settlement.

Do you think that players should receive any compensation while they are still in college, and should stars and scrubs all receive the same amount of money? I think they should be compensated, but I do not know about the fairness of paying the leading scorer as much as the last guy. I think paying players will improve the game in the long run. You will never get rid of 1-and-done guys, but it will be an incentive for 2nd-tier guys to come back to college. I think there is enough money to allocate to make it fair across the board.

If you could fix anything else regarding the NCAA, what would it be? They have already fixed the issue about meal money. Back in the day once your meal plan ran out for the semester the school was not allowed to give us any more money because it would be an “impermissible benefit”. We had a player from a foreign country whose meal money ran out before the year was over, and he just reached a point where he would have to take food from the cafeteria. I think Jay Bilas has been a big advocate for paying players. College coaches like John Calipari and Nick Saban make more money than most pro coaches, so I think we should be able to find some money to share with the players.

How much do you expect to receive from the settlement, and what do you plan to do with the money (expected to be a maximum of around $7000)? I do not know exactly how it will turn out. At the start of July it was going to be a 16% claim rate, but they extended the window until the end of July. I plan to use the money to pay some bills and then put the rest in a savings account, but I will be happy with whatever comes my way. Something is better than nothing: I do not expect to get Calipari-type money!

JonTeitel