Are you a fan of the NCAA Football games? Probably not: Madden’s little brother is popular, but not nearly as popular as the pro series. Still, it was a bit of a surprise to discover that once the NCAA’s contract is up in 2014, it won’t be renewing with EA. Or anybody, for that matter.
The games may still continue without a license, but the real story is why the NCAA is pulling out. In short, it comes down to whether or not the NCAA can use the likenesses of players without paying them.
Ed O’Bannon thinks otherwise. He’s currently suing the NCAA for basically using its players in everything from games to TV broadcasts to and essentially keeping all the money instead of sharing it with players. That’s $840 million in revenue in 2011 alone. It’s a suit that’s rapidly become ugly for the NCAA, with current players joining and a lot of its practices coming under fire. If O’Bannon wins, and it’s hard to see a scenario where that doesn’t happen, the NCAA stands to lose billions.
Honestly, it seems likely the games will be canned altogether. The NCAA games are an enormous licensing pain in the ass for EA; the NCAA’s participation helps, but they still have to get the licensing rights for two hundred colleges for every game. It doesn’t help that some details, like the fight songs of some colleges, have some truly bizarre rights issues surrounding them that EA doesn’t have the time to untangle. Without the NCAA’s license it seems unlikely the games will be worth it financially.
So, enjoy the games while they last: It’s likely that EA will move on. But hey, we’ll always have Madden. Always. Unrelentingly. Every year.