NCAA Cuts Ties With EA Sports, Leaving College Football Game Franchise In Limbo

Graduation Day is here for NCAA Football 14, perhaps the last installment in the series. posted on

It’s game over for NCAA Football.

The NCAA announced this afternoon that it was choosing to not renew its licensing agreement with EA Sports, the Silicon Valley-based video game behemoth, effectively making NCAA Football 14, released just last week, the final installment in the current series.

Here’s the full statement from the NCAA:

The NCAA has made the decision not to enter a new contract for the license of its name and logo for the EA Sports NCAA Football video game. The current contract expires in June 2014, but our timing is based on the need to provide EA notice for future planning. As a result, the NCAA Football 2014 video game will be the last to include the NCAA’s name and logo. We are confident in our legal position regarding the use of our trademarks in video games. But given the current business climate and costs of litigation, we determined participating in this game is not in the best interests of the NCAA.

The NCAA has never licensed the use of current student-athlete names, images or likenesses to EA. The NCAA has no involvement in licenses between EA and former student-athletes. Member colleges and universities license their own trademarks and other intellectual property for the video game. They will have to independently decide whether to continue those business arrangements in the future.

Disappointed fans don’t seem to be blaming EA or the NCAA as much as former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, whose groundbreaking 2009 lawsuit against the NCAA for profiting off his name has the potential to drastically alter the amateurism model of college sports:

There is always the chance the NCAA and EA may come together in the future on another deal, but the franchise that started in 1993 as Bill Walsh College Football for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System will have to start anew after this season.

The good news: There’s a decent chance that’ll happen. First off, there’s way too much money to be made in sports video games to just let the franchise die. (It’s a sticky point, considering this move by the NCAA is little more than a CYA maneuver meant to make it seem as if it’s not profiting from these players.) Second, the licensing for teams, conferences, and bowl games is not dependent on the NCAA but a rather shadowy entity known as the Collegiate Licensing Company. So as long as those deals remain in place and go forward, there should be a college football video game pegged to the 2014 season next fall. It just won’t be called NCAA Football. Early indications, in fact, are that it’ll simply be called College Football 15, if and when it actually exists in some form.

More than anything, today’s announcement shows how the NCAA felt the need to make some kind of good-faith gesture while facing a potential landmark ruling that could result in an astronomical payout to past athletes as well as shaking the very foundation of collegiate athletics. Until we get a ruling in the O’Bannon case, it’ll be up to the individual schools and conferences to decide if branding in an EA Sports game is a risk worth taking.

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