Sports video games are big business. There’s an installment every year. Millions of copies fly off of the shelves, whether we’re talking about NBA2K, NBA Live, or – the king – Madden. Each year, people act like it’s a holiday when the summer release drops in anticipation of the NFL season. But, it seems, for the fans of the college variety, NCAA Football, has fallen by the wayside. While not as popular as Madden, its core fan base can be considered just as fervent. So, what exactly happened? And how did the franchise die?
The Tricky Business of College Football
To understand what happened to the beloved NCAA Football franchise requires an understanding of college sports in America. The NCAA generates millions of dollars each year in TV promotions, ticket sales, and merchandise. For revenue generating sports, there’s a lot of tension between the massive universities and the players that pad their pockets. These scholarship athletes forego a share of the pie for an education. While we’re not going to delve too deeply into whether it’s fair or not, the players have long been clamoring for some additional compensation in addition to their scholarship.
For some, this may come off as whiny, especially considering that these are young men playing a game that they love for an institution that many may not be able to afford otherwise. Still, it’s important to note that one of the most storied football program, the aforementioned Alabama Crimson Tide, is worth a boatload of money.
At the last time they’ve reported this year, the football program alone has made $120 million (according to the Wall Street Journal). It should be noted that this is fifth on the list in total worth, but they do rank second in revenue for the year. Their coach, Nick Saban, is worth 30 million dollars with an annual paycheck of 7 million dollars. While the coaching figures may not be as important as the athletic take, it does say something staggering about college football – especially when you consider that the school is fifth on the list as far as valuable football programs are concerned. If you’re wondering which these other four are, the list rounds out to be Texas, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Ohio State.
The O’Bannon Case
Now that there is a solid baseline of where the college football landscape is as a whole, it’s important that we get to the heart of the matter – the Ed O’Bannon case. Ed O’Bannon, a former UCLA player, has become the face of a lawsuit that basically states that the NCAA cannot use players likenesses without permission and compensation. EA and the NCAA were compliant in a sense, although they skirted the rules by not using the names explicitly – although they used about everything else.
For example, O’Bannon was listed at his right height, weight, team, bald head, position, and signature left handed shot. EA and the NCAA did this for every athlete that represents every player from the Power 5 conferences to the letter. It gave them enough momentum, to the tune of over 100,000 signatures to take the case to the Supreme Court.
It was all but impossible for Electronic Arts and the NCAA to refute that they were subverting the rules. In all fairness, it’s extraordinarily hard to do so when there are hundreds of thousands of players whose likenesses were clearly represented, except their names. There’s a slight chance that the company could have continued making NCAA Football if it didn’t permeate to their other collegiate franchises, including NCAA Baseball, Lacrosse, College Hoops, among others. All of these games had similar faults, and as a result, the people in the lawsuit received a judgment of 4,000 dollars each.
The interesting part about the NCAA judgment is that it also opens the doors to payment of athletes, as the Supreme Court is aggregating cause for trusts to be set up for all scholarship athletes to the tune of $5,000. But in regards to EA’s NCAA Football, there’s all but faint hope to see the game return.
While college football is as popular as it has ever been, the yearly middling returns from the EA Sports NCAA Football franchise and the substantial ruling from the O’Bannon case may make it difficult for the ends to justify the means going forward.
[Photo via sportsgamersonline.com]