Finally, NCAA Football Video Games are Back! Or are they?
To many, July 9, 2013, is nothing more than a day seven years ago. But to sports video game enthusiasts, or “gamers,” that is the release date of NCAA Football 2014, the last college football video game produced by EA Sports.1 This may not sound unusual to a non-gamer, but this particular video game sold over 1.5 million copies.2 The game was usually released yearly and, as a whole, the franchise made EA Sports over 1.3 billion dollars in revenue.3 It was clearly a big seller, so what happened?
The answer is quite simple: not a single penny went to the athletes whose image and likeness were featured in the game.4 That is like making a movie and not paying the actors.5 Lawsuits followed6 and EA Sports stopped producing new versions of the game due to “legal issues.”7
The argument of whether or not to pay college athletes is a highly debated topic, with much ink spilled trying to solve the problem. In O’Bannon v. National College Athletic Association, the court held that payment outside of scholarship funds for the full cost of attendance was not allowed.8 In other words, scholarships were the only acceptable form of “payment” for student-athletes.9 Since this decision, though, there has been a shift in attitude about what types of payment student-athletes can receive.
California recently passed the Fair Pay to Play Act which allows student-athletes to earn money by using their name, image, and likeness for commercial purposes when not engaged in official team activities.10 Additionally, students cannot lose their scholarships, as had previously been the case, if they profit off of their name, image, and likeness.11 While this is great progress—cracking open the door to an NCAA Football video game—it is not an ultimate resolution as it does not go into effect until 2023 and only impacts California.12 When the Act was signed, Governor Gavin Newsom hoped that others would follow California’s lead in effort to not fall behind in recruiting.13
Another roadblock for the game is that there are 30,000 Division I college football players, meaning EA Sports would potentially have to negotiate individually with each one—an almost impossible task.14 On top of that, EA Sports would also need to negotiate with each team and conference for logo rights to use in the game.15 Unlike in major sports leagues, there is no union or organization representing the student-athletes which would alleviate this issue.16
Thus, many think it would be necessary for a player’s union to form in order to protect the interests of the college athletes.17 Such a union could bargain on behalf of the players, just as the unions for the major sports leagues do for professional athletes. It is imperative that each student-athlete be added to the game, or EA Sports puts itself at risk for further lawsuits.
Legally and logistically, there is still much work to be done before a new NCAA Football video game can be released. That said, some believe a new game could come as soon as July 2022.18 While that may be an ambitious date, it appears inevitable that NCAA Football video games will return sooner than later.
No matter how long it takes, I will be at the front of the line on the day of its release.
Brian Mazique, NCAA Football 14: Release Date, New Features, Rosters and Game Preview, Bleacher Report (July 5, 2013), https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1688589-ncaa-football-14-release-date-new-features-rosters-and-game-preview [https://perma.cc/LB6F-JKRJ].↩
Alex Scarborough, ‘A Labor of Love’ Keeps NCAA Football Video Game Alive, ESPN (July 9, 2020), https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/24057914/ncaa-football-ea-sports-lives-five-years-demise [https://perma.cc/7XDU-QRBX].↩
Roger Groves, EA Sports Will Still Score Even More Financial Touchdowns Without The NCAA, Forbes (Sept. 28, 2013), https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogergroves/2013/09/28/ea-sports-will-still-score-even-more-financial-touchdowns-without-the-ncaa/#4be54207554a [https://perma.cc/8D5B-JDF4].↩
See generally O’Bannon v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 802 F.3d 1049 (9th Cir. 2015).↩
Steve Berkowitz, How EA Sports’s NCAA Football Video Game Could Make a Comeback, USA Today (May 20, 2019, 6:00 AM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2019/05/20/how-ea-sportss-ncaa-football-video-game-could-make-comeback/3704876002/ [https://perma.cc/28H2-DLG9].↩
O’Bannon, 802 F.3d at 1053.↩
Id. at 1053, 1075.↩
Cal. Educ. Code § 67456(f) (effective Jan. 1, 2023).↩
Bryan Wiedey, California’s Fair Pay to Play Act First of Many Steps Needed for Return of ‘NCAA Football’ Franchise, Sporting News (Oct. 2, 2019), https://www.sportingnews.com/us/ncaa-football/news/california-fair-pay-to-play-act-return-ncaa-football-franchise/t7cgv56j9oif1xlgmq6vzndh3 [https://perma.cc/TEM8-B4FB].↩
Phillip Moyer, EA has to get Rights to ‘Each and Every Individual Athlete’ for NCAA Return, Says Lawyer, The Gamer (Oct. 30, 2019), https://www.thegamer.com/ea-ncaa-legal-issue/ [https://perma.cc/NB3E-E24B].↩
Wiedey, supra note 13.↩
Bryan Wiedey, The Door is Finally Open for ‘NCAA Football’ Franchise to Return, Sporting News (Oct. 30, 2019), https://www.sportingnews.com/us/ncaa-football/news/door-finally-open-for-ncaa-football-franchise-to-return/1akmgbyijqk2d1opirq5wzu2o0 [https://perma.cc/YQ2B-98X7].↩