NCAA to Stop Licensing Games, but EA Sports' College Title Isn't Dead

The NCAA will not renew its licensing agreement with EA Sports for its 21-year-old NCAA Football series once the current deal expires in 2014, the NCAA said in a statement today. It does not mean the end of the series, only the end of a series with the NCAA's name and logo on it.

"The NCAA has made the decision not to enter a new contract for the license of its name and logo for the EA Sports NCAA Football video game. The current contract expires in June 2014, but our timing is based on the need to provide EA notice for future planning. As a result, the NCAA Football 2014 video game will be the last to include the NCAA’s name and logo," the organization said in a statement.

That applies to the NCAA's name and its logo. Most of the game's imagery is licensed through the Collegiate Licensing Company, an altogether separate entity that handles the licensing business for more than 200 colleges and universities, plus athletic conferences and bowl games.

Late this afternoon, Andrew Wilson, the vice president in charge of EA Sports, said that relationship will continue.

EA Sports will continue to develop and publish college football games, but we will no longer include the NCAA names and marks. Our relationship with the Collegiate Licensing Company is strong and we are already working on a new game for next generation consoles which will launch next year and feature the college teams, leagues and all the innovation fans expect from EA Sports.

Two sources with direct knowledge of this matter earlier described the NCAA's decision as nearly a technicality, meaning the series will continue, albeit under different branding, with its major components intact, including real-world teams, stadiums and bowls.

"Given the current business climate and costs of litigation, we determined participating in this game is not in the best interests of the NCAA," the NCAA said in its statement. That is a reference to the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit, in which the former UCLA star and others are suing the NCAA, and EA Sports, over the use of their likenesses in commercial works. The suit seeks a class action status and, if granted, the exposure the NCAA faces could run into the billions, if not force it to change dramatically how it does business.

"Member colleges and universities license their own trademarks and other intellectual property for the video game," the NCAA said in its statement. "They will have to independently decide whether to continue those business arrangements in the future." That now appears to be an oblique reference to EA Sports maintaining the game through its CLC license. Again, the CLC is a private company, separate from the NCAA, owned by the mega sports and media management company IMG.

Of course, no players appear under their own name in the NCAA Football series, but the game's rosters have long been based on the current players for the upcoming season, just with their names erased. That has been one prong of the O'Bannon case, and is at the heart of two others brought by former college quarterbacks against EA Sports. Users have taken it upon themselves to rename the rosters, sharing them through a service provided by the game.

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