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Dr. Saturday

The NCAA declines to renew contract with EA Sports, but what does that mean?

Dr. Saturday

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(image via EA Sports)

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA has announced it is declining to renew its deal with EA Sports, which has produced the "NCAA Football" series since 1997.

"The NCAA has made the decision not to enter a new contract for the license of its name and logo for the EA Sports NCAA Football video game," read the statement. "The current contract expires in June 2014, but our timing is based on the need to provide EA notice for future planning. As a result, the NCAA Football 2014 video game will be the last to include the NCAA’s name and logo."

This is, of course, in response to the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit over using the likenesses of college players without compensating them. The NCAA claims it's "confident in its legal position," but this is clearly a concession. However, notice that the NCAA is only denying the use of their name and logo, because the licensing of the collegiate programs themselves is outsourced to the Collegiate Licensing Company, which represents the individual schools and conferences. (The CLC is also named in the O'Bannon lawsuit.)

So all this specific move means is that EA Sports will not have a college football video game called "NCAA Football 2015" next year. What it could portend is the CLC adjusting or severing their deal with EA Sports so they're not liable in any future suits like the O'Bannon case. The individual schools or leagues could also strike deals with EA Sports, meaning that perhaps instead of "NCAA Football 2015," you could have "MAC Football 2015."

A possible solution for EA: Fight to maintain the licenses with the CLC so consumers can still play as Ohio State against Oregon, still play in famous venues like Notre Dame Stadium and the Coliseum and still play in the Sugar and Rose Bowls. However - and it's interesting to see what gamer interest would be in this - don't use likenesses of the players. Out of the box, you would be given a generic roster of Crimson Tide and Gators to pit against each other, although you'd get to do it with the fight songs, stadiums and uniforms you're used to. Eventually users would build their own custom, legit rosters and share them, meaning the series could go on with correct depth charts without EA, CLC or the schools technically using the likenesses.

There are a lot of unknowns here - How will the O'Bannon trial proceed, and what will its affect be on collegiate licensing? Could this eventually affect the television deals? - and the only two things we know for certain are that A) No "NCAA Football" title next year and B) The argument over college athletes getting paid is not going away.

UPDATE: EA Sports will have a college football game next year, and it already has a name:

Completely ignoring the O'Bannon lawsuit and rolling with it? It's a bold strategy, let's see if it pays off for them.

UPDATE #2: Here is the full statement from EA:

By now, most fans will have heard that EA's licensing agreement with the NCAA is set to expire and that we have agreed to part ways. I'm sure gamers are wondering what this means.

This is simple: EA SPORTS will continue to develop and publish college football games, but we will no longer include the NCAA names and marks. Our relationship with the Collegiate Licensing Company is strong and we are already working on a new game for next generation consoles which will launch next year and feature the college teams, conferences and all the innovation fans expect from EA SPORTS.

We took big creative strides with this year's college game and you’ll see much more in the future. We love college football and look forward to making more games for our fans.

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