Could Fair Pay to Play Revitalize EA’s NCAA Football Franchise?

AthlonSports.com

Many are familiar with video game company Electronic Arts (EA)’s annual FIFA and Madden NFL games, but some may remember the company also used to make an annual game for NCAA Basketball and NCAA Football. For years, these titles were fan favorites, featuring all of the NCAA schools, and even included spitting images of the athletes, however the names were not the same.

           The games haven’t been on the shelves in years, with the basketball incarnation discontinued for sales reasons in 2009, and fan favorite NCAA Football seeing its end after NCAA Football 14 because of litigation and business costs. Ed O’Bannon’s name image and likeness (NIL) lawsuit was likely the nail in the coffin.

           A little background: Ed O’Bannon is a former collegiate basketball player for the University of California Los Angeles. O’Bannon sued the NCAA because of the NCAA’s use of athlete NILs for commercial purposes, seeking to have athletes whose NILs are used receive financial compensation upon graduation. In 2014, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California decided in favor of O’Bannon, holding that the NCAA’s rules and bylaws operate as an unreasonable restraint of trade, in violation of antitrust law.  The judge ordered that schools should be allowed to offer full cost-of-attendance scholarships to athletes, covering cost-of-living expenses that were not currently part of NCAA scholarships. The court also ruled that colleges be permitted to place as much as $5,000 into a trust for each athlete per year of eligibility. This naturally placed an additional burden on the NCAA, which was unwilling, or unable to pay out $5000 dollars to every athlete, so it walked away from the 80-million-dollar annual revenue generated by the NCAA game franchise.

           Now, however, the Fair Pay to Play Act is being implemented, and, at least in California, NCAA athletes are able to make money off of their NILs, According to BleacherReport.com, the NCAA is now open to the idea of re-releasing the video game franchise. Per the article, EA has been far more willing than the NCAA to pay athletes for NIL use in their video games, and with the passage of Fair Pay to Play, they can effectively do so. EA has been eager to release their games again, and it’s hard to believe fans would be opposed to the idea. One question that may arise is the potential payout structure. Would a notorious player like Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts or Alabama’s Tua  Tagovailoa demand more money for admission into the game than say, Syracuse quarterback Tommy Devito? Or would all of the athletes demand the same compensation? If it’s the former, it would not be ideal for EA Still, players like Hurts and Tua are the draw, and it would probably be worth the investment for the development company.

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