Electronic Arts' popular "NCAA Football" video game series could be primed for a comeback after the NCAA board of governors voted Tuesday to permit student-athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses.
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The surprise decision, which was announced amid mounting political pressure, removed a key obstacle for future production of the video game franchise. EA Sports stopped publishing the top-selling title after it was sued alongside the NCAA for profiting off player likenesses without proper compensation. That decision came months after the NCAA and several top college athletics conferences pulled out of licensing deals with the video game maker.
"NCAA Football" was one of EA Sports' top-selling titles prior to its cancellation. Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson signaled earlier this month, weeks after California passed a law allowing college athletes to sign endorsement deals, that the company was open to producing a new version if legal obstacles related to student-athlete compensation subsided.
"Our position is we would love to build a game," Wilson said during an interview at the Wall Street Journal Tech Live conference. "If there's a world where the folks who govern these things are able to solve for how to pay players for the use of their name and likeness and stats and data, we would jump at the opportunity to build a game in a heartbeat."
The NCAA's decision came after years of strong public opposition to the notion of compensation for student-athletes, despite a growing slate of legal challenges and pressure from politicians around the country. The organization said college athletes would be allowed to earn income "in a manner consistent with the collegiate model" and subject to guidelines that have yet to be defined.
Electronic Arts did not respond to FOX Business' requests for comment on the NCAA’s decision.
"NCAA Football 14" was considered a notable commercial success for Electronic Arts, selling roughly 1.5 million copies, according to ESPN. The franchise regularly ranked alongside EA Sports' "Madden" and "FIFA" series in terms of sales.
The possibility of its return caught the attention of ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who once served as an announcer for "NCAA Football."
Any effort to revive the video game franchise would require the Electronic Arts to reach renewed agreements for use of college player likenesses that would satisfy both the NCAA’s concerns about pay remaining within the loosely defined “collegiate model” and advocates for student-athlete rights.