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How EA Sports can still make a college football video game without the NCAA

The NCAA's EA Sports announcement is significant as far as the future of college sports goes. But it doesn't necessarily stop any video game from being made.

The NCAA will no longer associate itself with EA Sports' college football video game series. However, this is sort of false:

I only say "sort of" because the world could end tonight or aliens could disable all video game technology or college football could be banned. Otherwise, it's false, and the assumption (to be fair, the @SportsCenter account is likely trying to frame the news dramatically, rather than relaying a misconception) that the NCAA owns or oversees all of college football has led some to panic about video games.

Let this serve as an educational moment: the NCAA to major college football is essentially nothing but a rule book. It does not run FBS football bowls or conference title games, doesn't restrict which teams can change conferences, doesn't control conference television deals, and couldn't either force or stop the upcoming postseason changes. It attempts to regulate roster management and on-field rules, and that's about it.

Nothing bars EA Sports or any other company from publishing a college football video game. Such a game wouldn't feature the NCAA's name, but otherwise, nothing changes.

This news really only matters in terms of the ongoing Ed O'Bannon lawsuit over player licensing. It has almost nothing to do with video games -- gamers don't encounter the NCAA during any of the game's modes, as far as I can recall. You don't ring up virtual NCAA secondary violations while recruiting your virtual athletes, for instance.

Here are seven college football things that EA Sports could use in a video game without the NCAA's consent:

1. School names

And colors, logos, mascots, stadiums, fields, fight songs, cheers, and so on.

Universities sell their athletic licensing via the Collegiate Licensing Company, not via the NCAA. Additionally, each individual school and conference can choose whether to sell its rights solo.

2. The College Football Playoff

The Playoff, like the BCS before it, is not owned or operated in any way by the NCAA. The NCAA runs the postseason tournaments for all other NCAA-sanctioned sports and for FCS, Division II, and Division III football.

3. Bowl games

Almost all are owned by ESPN, not the NCAA. The few that are not also like attention.

4. The Heisman Trophy

And all other player and coach awards.

The Heisman is run by the Heisman Trust and sponsored by an array of huge corporations. The NCAA has virtually nothing to do with it.

5. Conference names

Like schools, conferences handle their own branding.

6. Coach names

Not currently used in the game, perhaps in order to enforce the flimsy NCAA/EA claim that player likenesses aren't used. But coaches could be added, once EA is either no longer worried about the O'Bannon case (which would likely mean paying a players' union for name rights or using something like historic rosters for each team). That would just mean buying coach likenesses from, say, the American Football Coaches Association.


The series already uses ESPN graphics and announcers, and nothing about that would change. In fact, this could be bigger than just a game element.

My best guess? EA Sports will either call its next edition of the game College Football 15 or ESPN College Football 15. It already uses ESPN branding on its packaging for current games, and ESPN is a far (far) better brand than the NCAA at the moment, and even more so in the future.

Either way, nothing about the NCAA's move changes the future of the game series.

Update: ESPN reports College Football 15 is indeed the expected new name.

Update 2: And the CLC affirms it is the CLC.

Update 3: Via Polygon:

"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," said Wilson, executive vice president of EA Sports. "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, leagues and all the innovation fans expect from EA Sports."

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