“The NCAA working group’s NIL recommendations pretend otherwise for a simple reason: college sports amateurism is a legal house of cards, and allowing a new game will hasten its collapse. Meanwhile, everyone who loves and misses EA Sports’ franchise is paying the price.”
If you’re anything like me or the literal millions of people in the same boat, you’ve been desperately awaiting the revival of the NCAA Football video game franchise for the better part of the last seven years. The last iteration of the game was released on July 9, 2013, and thanks to the dedication of those who create updated rosters each year and the title’s rabid fanbase, NCAA Football 14 is still incredibly popular.
In fact, it has become so popular during this period of time where people are forced to be indoors without sports, that copies of the nearly decade-old edition of the game are selling on eBay for upwards of $100. With a market clearly in place, and EA Sports on board with continuing the franchise, why haven't we gotten a new title in so long? Sportswriter Patrick Hruby took a deep dive into what has halted any hopes of the game’s return to this point.
The short answer: the NCAA’s greed.
As Hruby discusses in his piece, this issue really dates back to 2009. A UCLA basketball player by the name of Ed O’Bannon realized his name, image and likeness (NIL) were being used in NCAA Basketball 09 — a game that was making good money without O’Bannon seeing a dime. As a result, he filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and EA, claiming the organizations were colluding to prevent athletes from receiving compensation for their NILs.
The case was settled in 2014 for $60 million, and players received checks with a median value of around $1,000 for their appearance in games between 2003 and 2014. While O’Bannon technically won the case, the NCAA actually came out the victors in the long run as they were able to protect their precious “amateurism” clause that has allowed them to profit off student-athletes to this day. As a result, the NCAA video game franchise was no more.
The claim of amateurism by the NCAA makes very little sense, and its actually incredible they’ve been able to get away with it for so long. The associations viewpoint, in a roundabout way, is that this ‘amateurism’ promotes competition, attracts fans and makes student-athletes better students — as if a college football player being able to make some money while putting his body on the line would drive away the fanbase and make the games somehow less competitive.
As Hruby jokes in his article, “Your honor, thousands of football players are being paid to appear in this product. Fans are so turned off that they’re buying two million copies annually. Schools are so concerned about the adverse educational and business impact of this that they’re cashing in by having their brand marks appear as well.”
Regardless, the NCAA has been able to skate through with these claims without opposition since that case — until recently. There has been growing unrest around the nation about the absurdity of how the association controls its student-athletes for quite some time, and its beginning to come to a head. The NCAA doesn’t do itself any favors, either, as it continues to make itself look absolutely ridiculous with the rulings it comes down with.
Case in point: suspending Chase Young for receiving money from a family friend to fly his girlfriend out for the Rose Bowl, and not allowing Trevor Lawrence to start a GoFundMe to raise money for Coronavirus aid. People see these flat out ridiculous stipulations set forth by the NCAA, and the country’s voice for needing to change an organization that has gone unchecked for so long has grown to an uproar. Which brings us to the current climate surrounding NILs.
Beginning with California, a few states around the union have begun to pass laws that would allow college athletes to receive compensation based on their NIL, whether that be through autograph signings, endorsements, social media influencing, or the like. The changing laws have put tremendous pressure on the NCAA to change, and as a result the association has expressed support for permitting athletes to be compensated for their NILs in some capacity.
While this appears to be a step in the right direction for a revival of the NCAA video game franchise, the proposed rule changes are missing two key ingredients: group licensing of athlete NILs, and the use of school logos and trademarks in athlete sponsorships.
Once again, the NCAA is taking these steps to prevent the loss of its ability to claim amateurism. The school of thought is basically as follows. The association does not want its athletes to be able to unionize, which would make it far easier to create bargaining leverage. If some form of player organization was able to negotiate an NIL deal with EA Sports to get paid for a video game franchise, what is stopping them from dipping their toes into asking for a share of the TV revenue as well?
In the end, everything is always about money. The NCAA is trying to protect its seemingly infinite revenue stream as it continues to benefit off student-athletes that don't see a cent in monetary compensation, while the student-athletes themselves must fight the uphill battle of this ‘amateurism’ that only exists because the NCAA says so. The new NIL proposals are a single step closer to where we need to be, but we are likely many years and many lawsuits away from getting a new NCAA Football video game on the shelves, preventing us from this tasty possibility:
The college sports landscape is an incredibly difficult minefield when it comes to athlete compensation — which is exactly the way the NCAA wants it to be. EA Sports has already expressed a willingness to pay extra for players’ NIL rights to create a more realistic game, and the players themselves would obviously love to be able to play as themselves in a video game while also getting paid for it. The only thing in their way is an organization built on greed and continuing to cling to the unchecked power they’ve gotten away with for so long.
There is no clear path towards an immediate answer, and we are still not at all close to creating an actual fair system in place for student-athletes to be rightfully compensated for their efforts, even outside of video games. For a fully detailed breakdown of everything that has already happened and must happen in the future to arrive at this reality, check out Hruby’s article linked above. Hopefully one day I'll see you all out on the virtual gridiron for the release of NCAA Football 2026.