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The Saga of the EA Sports NCAA Series

The NCAA video game series has gone from a well-received set of games to completely non existent in 2 years. What happened?

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

As the long summer of no college sports drags on each year, there was always one thing to look forward to. On the 2nd Tuesday of each July, all of a sudden there was a form of college football that was able to be played, as long as you had a video game console. Sure it wasn't the real thing, but just as NFL fans salivate at the idea of preseason games only to realize how dissimilar to the real thing they actually are, college football fans eagerly awaited the release of the next EA Sports NCAA game, because for 8 weeks it was as close as you could get. Although the rosters would just name "QB # 5 from Whitehouse, TX", fans of that team knew exactly who that player was. It was tedious to rename every single player, even for just one team, let alone all of them. All you had to do was search google for "NCAA 14 roster" and find someone who had the rosters completed, and the results were close to flawless. The game even made it easy to do, as you could download any user's roster, as long as you knew their gamertag.

In the not so distant past, every year there would be rumors about how EA was going to be in trouble for using a player's likeness and not compensating them financially, but nothing ever happened. After all, QB # 5 could be anybody. Although the NCAA series was not one of the top sellers for EA, it still managed to bring in over $1 billion in sales since it debuted in 1998. It was a fun game. You could start out as a player in high school, colleges would come recruit you, and if you wanted to go to a top tier school, you better have great stats in high school or that team needed to have an open position. You might have to sit out a few games or your whole freshman year, but the simulation of being a college athlete was enjoyable and somewhat realistic, even down to not getting paid. If you played as a head coach you could hire staff, schedule recruiting trips and visits. But it has now been 2 years since there has been a NCAA game released.

After 14 came out, the NCAA decided it would not renew their license with EA, as it would violate their idea of college athletes being "amateurs". At first EA was ok with this, claiming they would be able to license the teams through the Collegiate Licensing Corporation, or through each team individually. At this point, the cracks were beginning to show, and the idea that NCAA 15 would not happen started to creep into people's minds. Maybe there wouldn't be a game, or maybe instead of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, there would be a generic red and black colored team based in the South Plains. After this happened, 3 of the major conferences decided to not lend their schools likenesses in the game, with the Pac-12, Big 10, and SEC all pulling away from EA. The series had died.

Fast forward to summer 2014. A Seattle-based law firm that was representing all players in either the football or basketball game from 2003 until the present that were involved in the game settled with EA to pay each player's likeness (1 likeness per game per year) a sum of $951, although this amount would vary depending on multiple conditions. This totaled $40 million as some players were used in multiple games. A couple months later an additional lawsuit was settled between the NCAA and the players, resulting in another $20 million being given out to players.

The deadline for the players to file a claim in the 2 suits passed at the end of last month, so the legal issues between video games and college athletes should be over. But what happens next? EA Sports is not allowed to use the players' likenesses and make a profit without compensation, but to compensate them would mean violating the NCAA rules. If the athletes continue to be true amateurs, a new college sports video game will probably never happen. For now, all those who have new consoles can hope for is that Microsoft will make NCAA 14 backwards compatible.