Money Talks: The resurgence of college sports video games

Growing up during the 2000s and early 2010s, I found that playing the NCAA basketball and football video games took up large portions of my day. Specifically, the main games I played from the respective series were NCAA Basketball 10 and NCAA Football 09. 

Even though I didn’t really know about college sports aside from my home state schools such as Kansas and Kansas State along with the major Blue Bloods like Duke, UNC and Michigan State, it was taking a team through March Madness or a BCS Bowl Game (back when that system still existed) that brought me joy. 

However, all of that excitement that came with playing as college teams began to fall apart at the start of the 2010s because of a class-action lawsuit from a former UCLA basketball player, Ed O’Bannon. O’Bannon was a member of the Bruins basketball team back in the ‘90s. He was included as a player in the EA Sports’ NCAA Basketball games in UCLA’s classic team. 

To avoid having to compensate players by using their names, NCAA and EA Sports circumvented this issue by not attaching names to the player but, rather, calling them something generic like “PG No. 1” and then matched up their appearance, skillset and other attributes resembling the actual player.

O’Bannon ended up arguing against the NCAA was that keeping appearances and other traits the same, even without the players’ names, is still illegal and players should be paid for taking part in the game. 

After much deliberation, O’Bannon eventually won the case with a $40 million settlement for the players, which is not that much as it was spread among at least 30 former athletes with checks ranging from $100 to a few thousand dollars. On top of that, the biggest loss was that the EA NCAA college sports video game franchises came to an end with NCAA Basketball 10 and NCAA Football 14, commonly known as one the best sports games ever.

Therefore, in the last 7 to 8 years, college sports video game fans such as myself have been in a drought of having the full-fledged experience. If you play the Madden or NBA 2K games, some college teams are available to use if you decide to create a player in each games’ career mode. 

The main reason why this option is even available is that these games used individual school licenses, so they can bring a few teams in to give more authenticity to the “road to glory” experience. Even USC is playable in the Madden franchise. 

What is exciting now is that EA announced the return of college football video games earlier this year. Something interesting to note is that it is now called “EA Sports College Football” and not the former “NCAA Football,” so there are definitely some changes with how that relationship will work compared to the past. 

At first, when EA announced it was bringing the series back, it was not planning to do
anything related to player likeness because the Name, Image and Likeness deal did not pass at the time in February. However, after the NIL developments this summer, EA said it is interested in possibly bringing a more authentic experience to its college football game.

More than 100 schools have already said they are planning to be in EA’s new game. However, there is still some trouble getting powerhouses such as Notre Dame, who won’t join unless student-athletes are compensated and properly represented in the game. So, to get some of these remaining schools to join, EA might be forced to pay players for their NIL. 

The game is set to release in the summer of 2023, after I graduate from USC. But, now I will have a school to play for. 

Hopefully, if the “EA Sports College Football” series works well, this can also bring back the game for other collegiate sports like basketball. But only time will tell. 

Pratik Thakur is a junior writing about business in the world of college sports. His column, “Money Talks,” runs every other Wednesday.