EA College Football Video Game in Limbo Once Again After 10-Year Hiatus
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In May, Electronic Arts officially announced that it was bringing back its popular college football game after a 10-year hiatus. Marred by successful athlete lawsuits — which gave players compensation for likenesses that were used in the past — EA had no choice but to halt production of the game.
But is NCAA Football coming back in the summer of 2024, as promised? Perhaps not so fast.
There are doubts again after word leaked that OneTeam Partners, the group that EA had contracted to strike a deal with the players, had reportedly offered $500 per player for their likeness.
A group called the College Football Players Association publicly revolted, saying that current college players should not opt into the deal, which they said was a flat fee with no royalty and promises exclusivity.
"One Team Partners was formed by the NFL and Major League Baseball players unions," said Jason Stahl, founder and executive director of the CFPA. "They haven't done deals that are flat fees with no royalties for their players. Why would they do it here?"
An EA spokesman, in a statement, walked back the notion that a concrete offer had been officially offered to players.
"There has been speculation around our plans, but it is just that — speculation," the statement provided to the Action Network said. "To be clear, we have not yet made any offers to any college athletes for this game."
But the $500 price has caused a debate on social media. How much is each player really worth in the NIL era if every player is to get the same amount?
In a poll of more 46,000 people on Twitter last week, 75% of respondents said they would be OK with just having schools and not having specific players in the game. But that's because many have reasoned that it doesn't matter whether specific players are in the game, seeing as EA has allowed everything — including names on the back — to be modified.
Darren Heitner, a lawyer who has entrenched himself in the NIL space, says he doesn't think the past should be a good guide for the future. When EA, the NCAA and other parties settled to pay back $60 million as a result of misappropriating likenesses in their college football and basketball games, likenesses were recognized as being beyond name and image to also encompass physical characteristics.
In the suit, it was argued that EA had a Kent State running back who was 5-foot-5, weighed 170 pounds, wore No. 6 and was a redshirt junior from Pennsylvania. At the time, Kent State's running back was Eugene Jarvis, who was a 5-foot-5 redshirt junior from Pennsylvania who wore No. 6.
That means if EA allows fans to input their own characteristics and names, that could make the company equally as liable.
"To turn their heads and allow people to insert their own or buy rosters that updates the game to show players likenesses doesn't at all absolve their legal responsibility here," Heitner said. "Knowing what qualified as likenesses in the previous case means that they are explicitly allowing it to happen again."
Interestingly, when the dust settled, players who were wronged in that case wound up with $200 to $500 per every year they were in the game. That's at the high range of what they are allegedly being offered now.
After a decade away, gamers just want their game back. But there's a possibility that the game that returns won't be the game that they're waiting for.