EA is diving back into the world of college football for the first time since 2013, the publisher announced today. But EA Sports College Football, which is currently in the early stages of development, will be making its return without licenses from the NCAA or the rights to the names and likenesses of actual current college players.
Instead, EA says the new game “will include the rights to more than 100 institutions featuring the logos, stadiums, uniforms, gameday traditions, and more that fans have come to know and love.”
The NCAA and many major college football conferences decided not to renew their exclusive contracts with EA Sports back in July 2013, amid legal disputes over whether players could share in the profits from the use of various NCAA trademarks. At the same time, EA was facing a direct lawsuit over the unauthorized use of player names and likenesses in the franchise, eventually leading to a multimillion-dollar settlement.
That combination of legal troubles led EA to announce the end of the best-selling NCAA College Football franchise in 2013. “The ongoing legal issues combined with increased questions surrounding schools and conferences have left us in a difficult position—one that challenges our ability to deliver an authentic sports experience, which is the very foundation of EA Sports games,” the company said at the time.
The NCAA still prohibits its players from profiting in any way from their role as student-athletes, though the organization is currently considering changing those rules amid legislative pressure from states like California. EA says it’s “continuing to watch those developments closely.”
EA’s decision to avoid NCAA and player licenses is already drawing some controversy in the halls of power. “Cutting athletes out of this reboot so they aren’t responsible for paying them for their likeness is a grave injustice,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in a statement reported by Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger. “I’ll be introducing legislation soon to help players finally profit off their talent so they don’t need to face continued mistreatment like this.
Though the NCAA and its players won’t be directly involved in the new game, EA is working with the Collegiate Licensing Company for imagery and trademarks associated with the included schools. But some of the most important trappings of the college football season, such as the conference system and bowl games, seemingly won’t be covered by that per-school licensing agreement.
EA says its deal with CLC makes it the “exclusive developer of simulation college football video game experiences.” The use of “simulation” there could be significant; similar wording in EA’s “exclusive” agreement with the NFL allowed Take-Two subsidiary 2K last year to announce the return of the NFL2K series as a “non-simulation” title.
In an interview with ESPN, EA Sports Vice President and General Manager Daryl Holt said the new game “won’t happen this year.”