Checkpoint: Tis the season to bring back NCAA video games

North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts after dunking the ball against Providence during the second half of a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. North Carolina won 85-66. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

EA Sports and the National Collegiate Athletics Association recently settled a 60 million dollar lawsuit by over 24,000 former college athletes that appeared in college football and basketball video games between 2003 and 2014. It’s big news for those gamers that are also sports fans, and given the season I think it’s time we discuss how to bring back NCAA football and basketball.

I’m personally invested in this fight, because I own a copy of NCAA football from 2011, and I still play it today. Leading the University of Connecticut on three straight undefeated seasons is improbable but fun, and you can’t fault the game’s audio teams, as every team has the appropriate chants and fight songs. I’d love to get a new college football game, even though I know it would contract “Madden” syndrome and have a new release every year. I’m sure there are millions of other college sports fans that would love the opportunity to play as Denzel Valentine or Ezekiel Elliott, but must instead play pretend with games that are now outdated.

The basic problem is that while NFL athletes and coaches are paid for the use of their likeness in games like “Madden,” college football and basketball players aren’t paid at all. They get scholarships, sure, and some schools offer stipends to athletes, but they still aren’t being paid for their work, at least not in dollars. The case in question, O’Bannon v. NCAA, ruled that the NCAA had to pay players for the use of their likeness in commercial enterprises, including video games.

But while you might think that that means that everything has been decided, that’s far from true. The NCAA and O’Bannon both hope to take this case to the Supreme Court of the United States so they can rule on other provisions of the NCAA’s guidelines, and given the incredibly slow pace of the US judicial system, it’s unlikely that any of us will be able to play a new college sports game while still enrolled in college.

Even when that issue is resolved, EA Sports, who were responsible for making the NCAA video games, must work to get the licenses to use players’ likenesses and names again. The existing deal between EA and the NCAA has also been struck down, and no one knows if the NCAA is even going to want to go through the trouble of making new games when they know that at least some of their profits will not be going to the NCAA, but to the student athletes.

This column is not meant to weigh in on the debate about whether student athletes should be paid, but I do want to state for the record that the NCAA’s policies geared towards saving money by not paying college athletes are exactly what got the organization into this legal mess in the first place. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the NCAA will be swayed by the cost of continuing this legal battle, however. Every year the organization rakes in over one billion dollars from the NCAA tournament in March.

I’m by no means a legal scholar, and this column would probably be less entertaining if I tried to switch my focus from video games to law, but this case is a sobering reminder that video games are a big business, one that means a significant impact on the bottom lines of companies and the lives of millions of people. It would be foolish to argue that the players and the NCAA should come together for the benefit of the video game industry, but it is sad to see that a once great and storied franchise has been shelved because of a lengthy and litigious dispute. We can only hope that college sports will one day return to our consoles and computers, but it’s worth remembering that a small but significant first step was taken with this settlement. 


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.