Why an 'NCAA Football' Video Game Return is Unlikely Despite College Athletes Being Allowed to Cash In

The NCAA has moved a step closer to allow college athletes to receive compensation from product endorsements and social media content.

However, hopes that could lead to a relaunch of the NCAA Football video game franchise were swiftly quashed as the body's recommendations do not deal with the issue of group licensing rights, which are a crucial aspects to the series.

In October last year, California became the first state to allow collegiate athletes to profit from the usage of their name, image and likeness. With a number of states either passing or considering similar laws, the NCAA put the issue to its Board of Governors—its highest governing body—when it met earlier this week.

On Wednesday, the NCAA announced the Board of Governors had pronounced itself in favor of allowing student-athletes from profiting from third-party endorsements.

It also recommended college athletes should be allowed to receive compensation for personal appearances, social media campaigns and personal businesses they may have started.

"As a national governing body, the NCAA is uniquely positioned to modify its rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field for student-athletes," NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.

"The board's action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals."

Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and president of Ohio State said in a statement that "Allowing promotions and third-party endorsements is uncharted territory."

Each of the NCAA's three divisions have been instructed by the Board of Governors to amend their rules in order to ensure the recommendations can be implemented from the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year.

While the proposed changes could reshape certain aspects of the NCAA's landscape, the NCAA has made clear the status quo as far as conferences, schools and trademarks will remain unchanged.

That will come as a major blow to fans hoping the Board of Governors' ruling may open the door to a relaunch of EA Sports' video game franchise NCAA Football.

Initially launched as Bill Walsh College Football in 1993, the franchise was rebranded NCAA Football five years later after EA Sports acquired the licensing rights from the NCAA.

The franchise, which acted as college football counterpart to EA Sports' Madden NFL series, was a major hit with fans but was placed on hiatus in 2013 shortly after the released of NCAA Football 14, to date its final instalment.

The decision to put the franchise on hiatus came after the NCAA announced it would not renew its deal with EA Sports due to a legal dispute regarding the use of player likenesses in the games.

The agreement only covered the NCAA name and brands, as opposed to the individual schools and conferences. However, after the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 withdrew their support, EA Sports opted to shelve the franchise.

LSU, Clemson, College Football Playoff
Clyde Edwards-Helarie #22 of the LSU Tigers tries to avoids a tackle by Clemson linebacker Jake Venables during the College Football Playoff National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 13 in New Orleans, Louisiana. LSU defeated Clemson 42 to 25. Don Juan Moore/Getty

News the Board of Governors would meet this week had reignited hopes the NCAA may address the licensing rights, but those hopes were swiftly quashed on Wednesday.

In its media call, the NCAA explicitly described group licensing as currently "unworkable". That also rules out the prospect of having jerseys with players names on sale any time soon.

Aside from the issue of licensing rights, the NCAA has also made clear compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible and that student-athletes are students first and foremost, rather than employees of the university.

"The evolving legal and legislative landscape around these issues not only could undermine college sports as a part of higher education but also significantly limit the NCAA's ability to meet the needs of college athletes moving forward," Drake added.

"We must continue to engage with Congress in order to secure the appropriate legal and legislative framework to modernize our rules around name, image and likeness. We will do so in a way that underscores the Association's mission to oversee and protect college athletics and college athletes on a national scale."