Just How Close Is EA Sports’ Video Game NCAA Football To Revival?
By: Anthony Studnicka
EA Sports, it’s in the game.
This slogan is something many sports fans and video game players have heard over the last few decades as EA Sports has grown to become a powerhouse in the sports video game industry.
However, since 2013, when EA Sports released “NCAA 14” the company has not revived the popular NCAA Football series. The previous demise of the NCAA football game can be mostly attributed to the legal battle of Ed O’Bannon vs. NCAA. While this was not the sole cause for the game discontinuing, it was the first domino. The case alone did not discontinue the game, but compilations stemming from the lawsuit lead to issues with the NCAA that eventually did. EA originally indicated they may be willing to pay players to use their likeness in the popular game, but this would conflict with NCAA amateurism rules.
“The holdup came on the NCAA side, whose resistance to allowing players to profit in any way while in school made it virtually impossible for EA to keep making the game without yet another lawsuit.” -Kevin Sweeney, Sports Illustrated.
This may be coming to a change soon. With new reform surrounding the name, image, and likeness of college athletes, EA sports is now optimistic they will get back to recreating the beloved game soon. While the potential release date is uncertain, what is known at this time is there will be new complications involved with creating the game.
This past week, Notre Dame, one of the most popular universities in the college football scene, released a statement remarking that for now, they will be opting out of the video game. University Vice President Jack Swarbrick and Athletic Director James E. Rohr released a joint statement stating their intention to remain uninvolved until it is clear how student-athletes can benefit from their individual image and likeness. Notre Dame’s main hesitation is they are not committing until rules are finalized to govern the participation in the game of their student-athletes. Further, Notre Dame has been clear that they want to ensure these rules benefit their student-athletes.
And now it appears Norte Dame is not the only major University taking a stance, as Northwestern has joined them.Northwestern is aligned with Notre Dame and wants to see the name, image, and likeness rules created before deciding on their involvement with the video game.
It appears this trend to support athletes in this movement is growing. Ultimately, if a University does not support its athletes in this regard, they may be subjecting themselves to significant recruiting disadvantages. Why would one athlete want to go somewhere they feel unprotected when a rival school is sticking their necks out for them? In short, this support is inevitably going to grow wider across the country.
In sum, what does all this mean? It means that the fans who are excited to get back on their video game consoles and hear those magical words: EA Sports, it’s in the game, may have to continue playing some of EA Sports’ other game offerings, for now. Many people have speculated that the game may not hit be back on shelves for at least another year, and this just provides further support for that speculation.
Alternatively, EA Sports could pursue the option to release the game anyway. This may be contingent on a handful of things. One, they would likely be required to leave the Universities who have opted-out of the game from being involved. Two, they would likely have to randomly generate all players for all teams. This means, having similar height, weight, ethnicity, and even skill sets to a player may be a violation, as determined in the O’Bannon case. This leads one to wonder, would EA even want to create this product? A product that has select schools (and a potentially growing number of said schools) not involved, with players who do not resemble the guys on their rosters? That’s a pass from this former EA Sports College Football fan. While EA Sports hands may not be literally tied and refrained from doing this, they are in reality. This would be a poor business decision on EA Sports’ part to move forward with the game revival absent the name, image, and likeness rules creation.
This leaves one final question that fans are eager to know. Where are we with the name, image, and likeness rule creation? And when can this process begin to move forward so that fans can get their hands back on NCAA Football?
That’s the golden question, and only time will tell. But it appears that time is growing closer.
Recently, NCAA president Mark Emmert asked Congress for help in implementing a national rule to govern college athletes making money. Since then, this seems to be on Congress’ agenda for consideration. On Wednesday, February 24th Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) introduced new legislation for consideration. This legislation would implement new protections for college athletes. The bill focuses on: increased medical coverage, requiring more athletic departments to cover additional medical expenses, allowing athletes to hire representation for endorsement deals, providing changes to transfer rules, the creation of an Amateur Intercollegiate Athletics Corporation to settle disputes and enforce rules, amongst other things. This is just one example of how members of Congress have taken an active approach in helping implement potential changes. Numerous other proposals have emerged since President Emmert asked Congress for help.
The answer of when this is going to happen is unknown. However, there may be a sense of urgency brewing. National uniformity is likely the goal before states implement differing laws impacting college athletes. This is set to begin this July, when Florida’s name, image, and likeness law would take effect. It may be in the best interest of the college sports landscape to have uniformity before then.
Still, the answer to which approach is going to be adopted remains unclear. The difficult balance of NCAA vs. student-athlete interests must be reached to ensure the implementation of new rules does not violate antitrust concerns.
In conclusion, there is growing optimism that changes may be coming for college athletes soon. This issue has grown nationally, and it appears members of Congress are eager to take action. Ultimately, just like anything else that goes through the legislative process, the timeline is uncertain. For now, fans are going to have to wait to get their hands on the newest NCAA Football video game, and college athletes are going to have to continue to watch for change.
Anthony is a third-year student at Arizona State University pursuing a J.D. and a Master of Sports Law & Business. He is the creator of Long Run Sports.
 Kevin Trahan, Court Filing: EA Sports Wanted To Pay College Football Players, But Couldn’t, SBNation (June. 4, 2014),https://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2014/6/4/5779102/ea-sports-ncaa-lawsuit-pay-players.  Kevin Sweeney, Why Did EA Sports Stop Making NCAA Football Video Games?, SportsIllustrated (Feb. 2, 2021),https://www.si.com/college/2021/02/02/ncaa-football-ea-sports-stopped-making-games.  Chris Bengel, EA Sports Plans To Revive Its College Football Video Game Franchise, CBS Sports (Feb. 2, 2021),https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/ea-sports-plans-to-revive-its-college-football-video-game-franchise/.  Ryan Gaydos, Notre Dame Opts Out Of EA Sports’ College Football Video Game, Fox News (Feb. 22, 2021),https://www.foxnews.com/sports/notre-dame-opts-out-ea-sports-college-football-video-game.  Id.  Id.  Dan Lyons, Big Ten School Joins Notre Dame In Opting Out Of Video Game, The Spun (Feb. 25, 2021),https://thespun.com/big-ten/northwestern/ea-sports-college-football-video-game-opt-out-notre-dame-northwestern.  Id.  Dan Murphy, Bill Introduced By Sen. Jerry Moran Would Allow College Athlete Endorsement Deals, Increase Medial Coverage, More, ESPN (Feb. 24, 2021), https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/30957361/bill-introduced-sen-jerry-moran-allow-athlete-endorsement-deals.  Id.  Id.