- Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson said the company “would jump for the opportunity” to start making video games about college sports again, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
- EA stopped making college sports games in 2013 after settling a lawsuit with former college athletes who wanted payment for their appearances in past NCAA sports games.
- During the Wall Street Journal Tech Live conference, Wilson expressed interest in a California state law that would allow college athletes at California schools to be paid for the use of their digital likeness.
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Electronic Arts hasn’t made a college sports game in more than five years, but CEO Andrew Wilson said the company “would jump for the opportunity” to get back into the business, according to a report from Sarah Needleman of The Wall Street Journal.
Speaking at the WSJ Tech Live Conference, Wilson expressed interested in a recently passed California law that requires the NCAA to allow college athletes to receive payment for use of their likeness, which would include video game appearances, endorsement deals, and autograph signings.
College sports games saw a swift decline in 2009 after former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed a lawsuit against Electronic Arts, the NCAA, and the Collegiate Licensing Company demanding royalties for college athletes who appeared in video games. EA and the CLC chose to settle the lawsuit for $US60 million in 2014. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit eventually delivered a judgement against the NCAA, awarding players who appeared in EA games between 2003 and 2014 with an average settlement of $US1,237.
The lawsuit created a new wrinkle in an ongoing debate about whether or not student-athletes should be compensated. The NCAA takes a hard stance on college athletes maintaining their amateur status – students can be made ineligible to compete if they receive gifts and payment, or if they consult with a professional agent. The NCAA is expected to deliver a report on its own rules over likeness rights later this month, which would include a response to the new law in California.
Electronic Arts ceased work on its “NCAA Basketball” series a few months after O’Bannon’s lawsuit was filed; the company’s last college sports game was “NCAA Football 2014,” released one month before EA settled the lawsuit.
In a statement announcing that there would be no “NCAA Football 2015,” EA Sports executive Cam Weber said the company was stuck in the middle of the legal battle between the NCAA and college athletes, and that the NCAA and collegiate conferences had withdrawn their licenses from EA’s games.
“We have been stuck in the middle of a dispute between the NCAA and student-athletes who seek compensation for playing college football,” Weber said. “Just like companies that broadcast college games and those that provide equipment and apparel, we follow rules that are set by the NCAA – but those rules are being challenged by some student-athletes.”
Half a decade later, the state of California has taken a stance to help athletes profit off their fame, but the NCAA is still the biggest obstacle preventing the return of college sports games.
EA did make an interesting gesture by including 10 Division I football schools in “Madden NFL 20” this year. Though the game doesn’t feature the likenesses of any of the players on those teams, the schools face off in a version of the College Football Playoff in “Madden’s” prologue. This won’t benefit any of the Division I players at those schools, but fans can at least get a taste of playing with college teams for a short while.
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