College football fans have been dying to get their hands on an updated EA Sports + NCAA Football game for years… but is this beloved game ever coming back? Unfortunately, the bad news is that we shouldn’t expect the NCAA Football game for PS4, Xbox One, or any other game console any time soon. With licensing and payment disagreements between players, the NCAA, and Electronic Arts (EA), we still may be a far way off from seeing another NCAA Football video game hit the shelves.
Sports have a huge fan base. Football, both at the professional and college levels, has especially-dedicated fans that look to fill their homes, their lifestyles, and their game consoles with their favorite teams. That’s why so many people are eagerly awaiting the anticipated return of the NCAA Football game for the Xbox One, PS4, or even for the Nintendo Switch. Knowing that a new one may not be on the horizon, a lot of fans are still heavily passionate about previous NCAA Football games (check out this fan’s obsession on ESPN).
Why was the NCAA Football game canceled in the first place?
For nearly two decades, Electronic Arts (EA) had been releasing annual NCAA Football video games. It started in 1993 with Bill Walsh College Football, and soon after, EA acquired the licensing rights to the NCAA for the release of NCAA Football 98 (1997). This licensing agreement meant that EA could use the names, images, and mascots from real college schools in the game.
People went nuts for the game—I know we did! Football fans loved being able to throw on their team’s uniform, play as their favorite players, watch stadium-goers do the team’s halftime rituals, and cheer on their mascot. There’s nothing better than throwing on your team’s hat in real life and then entering the game to play as your favorite QB.
There was, however, a problem: the NCAA did not, and still does not, allow student-athletes to profit from their football college experience. This means they can’t get paid by the university or sponsors, and it also means they can’t make any money if their name or likeness is used as a character in an EA video game.
However, EA Sports was using popular players from colleges. They were using the players’ likeness and stats, but changing their name slightly. They had a feature where the gamer could edit the name of the player, so gamers had the ability to change the fictional name to the real college sports player’s name. They weren’t using college players… but they essentially were.
That’s why the NCAA Football video game came to an abrupt halt in 2013. The NCAA Football 14 was the last release, leaving our Playstations longing for an NCAA Football game PS4 2019 and our Xbox’s dreaming of an NCAA Football game Xbox One for 2020.
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What happened in the Ed O’Bannon case?
The NCAA didn’t renew the license for EA to make the video games in 2013. This came on the tail of Ed O’Bannon’s court case, a former UCLA basketball player who filed an antitrust class action lawsuit with other players against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for not allowing players to profit from their “name, image, and likeness” (NIL). Basically, the players wanted the ability to make money on the EA football games and other licensing deals and sponsorships if their names and images are used. The NCAA is opposed to paying players because it could corrupt the sport, universities, and even society as a whole.
Ed O’Bannon filed a lawsuit alleging violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act deprived him of his right of publicity. He used the EA Sports NCAA Basketball 09 as an example, since they used his likeness from the 1995 championship team without his permission. EA were co-defendants with the NCAA and the courts ruled that EA Sports had used athlete likeness without permission or compensation. EA Sports was ordered to pay a $40 million settlement shared with as many as 100,000 current and former athletes who appeared in the EA Sports’ NCAA football and basketball series from 2003-2014.
Is there hope for a future NCAA video game?
Although we haven’t gotten any NCAA franchise EA Sports games since 2013, there may be a ray—or the smallest shimmer—of hope for the future. In 2019, California became the first state to pass a law that would allow college athletes to profit from NIL (name, image, likeness) rights. The law would go into effect in 2023, and the rules would allow:
- compensation for third-party endorsements related to athletics, without school or conference involvement (like EA Sports), and
- compensation for other student-athlete opportunities, like social media, new businesses, and personal appearances without institutional involvement or use of trademark/logos.
Basically, the NCAA will now have to allow players to make money off their fame, but they still can’t be paid by the university or in any scenario where the university is involved.
While some people expect that additional states will follow suit, others believe this ruling could be found as unconstitutional. There are also going to be a lot of nuances to the rules, like in areas of recruiting college-bound student-athletes, financial aid, and play versus practice seasons. Although the ability to pay for the likeness of college athletes could allow EA Sports and the NCAA to make a deal one day soon, the NCAA is still pushing back heavily.
The NCAA stated that this sort of paid group licensing would require that student-athletes join a union. The NCAA is not yet allowing or opening the opportunity for unions or group licensing, especially when individuals would be profiting alongside their school name as well. We don’t believe the NCAA will budge any time soon, and it’s unlikely that EA Sports would individually contract players without using the school names.
So, for now, there is unfortunately still no NCAA Football game for the PS4 or other consoles in sight.
What about if the students don’t get paid?
This is where we’ve really held on to some hope. EA Sports is still interested in making the game, and so are some players. Denard Robinson, the former University of Michigan quarterback who appeared on the NCAA Football 14 cover, said he’d love to see the game make a comeback. He bets that a lot of current and former players would be fine with using their names and likeness without being paid, too. So, maybe—just maybe—EA Sports and NCAA will be able to come to some sort of deal if enough students sign agreeing to not receive payment. In that case, we’d probably love our favorite players even more for bringing college football back to the Xbox One!
Is there another college football game for the PS4 or Xbox One to play?
EA Sports may make another generic (unbranded) college football game for the PS4 like it did in the ‘90s, but it might not have the same sort of draw that they’ve come to expect in the past with the NCAA games.
There aren’t a lot of updated options for college football video games. There are some pro football games, like Madden NFL (which is available for both PS4 and Xbox One), or arcade-style games like Gridiron Champions. But, unfortunately, when it comes to college football, our video games are still stuck in 2013.
You can also keep your eye out for other sports options, like NHL 20 for Xbox One and basketball games, although they mostly depict professional sports. We were excited to see that NBA Live 19’s career suite allowed you to play as WNBA characters, too—we’re happy to see more female athletes in video games.
What does the future hold for NCAA Football video games?
Will our updated consoles ever see the likes of a new EA Sports + NCAA Football game? It’s not looking like it’s happening any time soon, even though we’re hopeful. Gamers want it to come back, football fans are itching to play as their current favorite stars, and there’s plenty of money to be made for the franchises. Still, we have to wait it out and hope that someone will budge to bring us back the game.
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