Electronic Arts just lost one of its most important licensing deals. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has publicly announced that it won't be renewing its contract with EA when the current deal lapses in June 2014. That means NCAA 14, released earlier this month, will be the final collaboration between both sides. In a statement, the NCAA said "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 association is likely referencing accusations that the NCAA and EA have inappropriately included identifiable athlete likenesses in games; one pending antitrust suit includes former UCLA player Ed O'Bannon and a dozen other athletes among its plaintiffs.
It's a worrying development for EA, particularly as the publisher attempts to renew its long-exclusive agreement with the NFL. Like the NCAA, the NFL's contract with EA is soon set to expire following the release of NFL 25 in August. Still, there's been no indication that the NFL is unhappy with where things currently stand. Holding onto pro football, hockey, and soccer rights would minimize the impact of an expired NCAA deal.
EA's grasp on sports is loosening
Importantly, the NCAA's decision doesn't forbid EA from making a college football game, but the publisher would be barred from using the NCAA name / logo and would need to negotiate licensing with universities on an individual basis. The NCAA says colleges "will have to independently decide whether to continue those business arrangements in the future."
Even if the two should eventually patch things up, the days of EA's exclusive grasp on NCAA football are over. As Polygon points out, a class-action settlement last year ended with EA agreeing not to form exclusive agreements for a period of five years after NCAA Football 14.
Update: And it turns out EA intends to press on with publishing college football games. Executive VP of EA Sports Andrew Wilson has issued a statement confirming his company "will no longer include the NCAA names and marks" in future titles. But the industry giant is "already working on a game for next generation consoles" due next year featuring college teams and leagues. EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company — which represents dozens of universities — both describe their working relationship as "strong." "We love college football and look forward to making more games for our fans," Wilson says.