Most sports gaming fans have heard the news by now. The NCAA has made the bold decision to not renew their contract with EA Sports for their NCAA Football series after it expires in June of 2014. Internet blog sites ran rampant with news that this would inevitably kill the NCAA Football game series after this months release. So, what’s next for EA Sports and NCAA Football? There’s a lot of rumor floating out there, but here at Tech Raptor, we are going to help you separate fact from fiction and set the record straight.
The first question asked has been “why did the NCAA cancel the contract?” Well, there’s been a number of rumors and executive jabber over this, but let’s be honest. The main reason is the current civil suit brought against the NCAA by Ed O’Bannon, Sam Keller, and six current Division 1 NCAA football players over their likeness being used in EA Sports video games. Any rational person knows, that the in-game characters do resemble their real life counterparts, have the numbers, and have the same relative abilities and the real athletes receive absolutely zero dollars for this resemblance. I’m not going to get into the main specifics of the lawsuit, but I will say that it seems like the NCAA is trying to move themselves further away from EA to remain as innocent as possible and limit their payout if they are, in fact, deemed guilty during this lawsuit. If they stayed partnered with EA, there could be a multi-billion dollar lawsuit in the making for both parties.
The main thing to also keep in mind during this whole announcement, is what the current contract actually states. EA and the NCAA signed an agreement to allow EA to be the sole game publisher for NCAA licensed games. Keyword: Licensed. Currently, college football operates differently than say college basketball with the NCAA March Madness trademark. College football isn’t necessarily bound by marketing and sales guidelines by the NCAA. The NCAA solely acts as a governing body for college football. They allow each college and university to negotiate their own license agreements through the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), and each conference can negotiate their own tv license deals. This is how ESPN and Fox were allowed to negotiate and fork over almost $10 Billion towards broadcasting rights for the 5 major football conferences. The original EA/NCAA contract had a small caveat though. In order for EA to publish the NCAA Football game, they also had to include the NCAA March Madness moniker along with it for the now defunct game, NCAA March Madness.
Now for the good news. EA had announced only hours after the NCAA announcement, that they have in-fact renewed the contract with the CLC to continue making Collegiate Licensed products, i.e. a “College” Football series video game. This is a huge step because that A.) means the game series will continue without a hitch, and B.) it leaves somewhat of a chance that these college athletes could actually make some extra money from the sales of these games, depending on what the verdict is of the pending lawsuit as majority of college coaches and presidents are now in favor for some type of stipend fund for student-athletes. But remember, the NCAA governs college football, so they can still drop the hammer for improper benefits if the rules stay the way they are. Thus, potentially giving these student-athletes no chance of future revenues. The other thing that won’t change are the associated bowl games. These are all also a part of the CLC contract as well as in some cases, their own contracts. EA will still be allowed to use these brands within their future games without the NCAA having any say in the matter., but EA still won’t be able to use the NCAA logo at all in the game. EA will also have to engage with the yet to be named group that will control the College Football Playoffs in order to secure a contract to the rights of their brand, much like the BCS group.
In the end, this really means nothing in the terms of the future of the NCAA Football series, besides a name change. The series will NOT be cancelled, and in all actuality, could greatly improve because it will allow EA to not spend nearly as much money just on licensing fees because they now will not be paying the NCAA money like they did in the past, leaving more money for development and technology upgrades, as EA has already announced the series will debut on next generation consoles come next year. In the long run, I think this could be for the better of both parties as the NCAA body tries to play innocent during their pending trial and also leaves EA to negotiate directly with the colleges and universities without having to worry about the NCAA being big brother. And maybe, just maybe, EA can build upon the solid release they just had with NCAA Football 14.