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WILL THERE EVER BE ANOTHER NCAA FOOTBALL VIDEO GAME?

WILL THERE EVER BE ANOTHER NCAA FOOTBALL VIDEO GAME?

BY: Darren Rovell (ESPN)

It was three years ago when EA Sports announced it would no longer make its college sports video games. The announcement was made in the midst of a battle with former college players who alleged that the game maker and the NCAA were using their likenesses in the game without permission or compensation.

It took another three years, but in 2016, players who were in the games for the past decade of the production of the college basketball and football games were paid off as part of a settlement (the median payout was about $1,000).

Players who discussed their compensation checks in public were scrutinized on social media by fans of the game, and the man who lent his name to the fight for athlete royalties, Ed O’Bannon, also drew a lot of criticism.

Over the years, rumors of the games’ resurrection have popped up among an audience eager to play again. In fact, just as the NCAA said it wouldn’t support a game in the future, EA rounded up the top schools through licensing agent CLC and extended deals with guaranteed money through 2017.

But after interviews with more than 10 inside sources — including those in the video game industry and executives at schools — as of now there is no traction on EA making a new college game.

There are several reasons for this.

In order to make a game worth buying, EA is going to have to use the players’ likenesses again. What the structure for payment would be is unclear because the settlement is one for past use, not a guide for the future.

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Also, the settlement which produced roughly $1,000 per player was for that class (football and basketball players in that time frame). It’s certainly up for debate whether any royalty generated and distributed — as of the last agreement, around $10 million total went to schools — would have to be distributed to all student athletes, which significantly lowers the individual payout each athlete would get.

Several athletic department sources suggested that the lack of an NCAA football game in particular has been detrimental to the sport, as young players have had to gravitate to other games. One AD wondered aloud whether schools would be willing to forgo their royalties and put the money into getting a game back on the shelves. He wondered how many kids have started watching European soccer games instead of college football on Saturdays as a result of playing EA’s FIFA game.

That idea, at least initially, has been shot down because there is still concern about the prospect of being sued. The schools and EA would have to be indemnified against any lawsuit in order to move forward with that plan.

Another point often overlooked is that before the O’Bannon trial made its way into the spotlight, EA lost its right to make college games exclusively. That begs the question: Is there someone else willing to take on the legal responsibility to make the games?

Two Alabama residents reportedly are going to try to raise $850,000 on Kickstarter at the beginning of September to begin making their own game by 2019.

But beyond securing the licenses, it will be hard to make a quality game and set up distribution similarly to what EA had accomplished.

That is unless Sony or Microsoft want to get involved. What’s their incentive? It may pay for console makers to use the game to sell the consoles. Imagine how many could be sold with an exclusive NCAA football game bundle.

Having reported on the O’Bannon lawsuit from the beginning, I know there’s little interest from fans on the nitty gritty of college athlete compensation. Most fans just want to know what happened to the video game. Right now, the future doesn’t look particularly bright for a good game to be produced anytime soon.

* Darren Rovell was recruited out of college as a sports business writer for ESPN.com. He reported on sports agents, endorsements, and contracts frequently on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Rovell joined CNBC in 2006.