It’s in the game

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Picture this.

Cal has won its 20th-straight national championship. Instead of posters that say, “We Want Bama,” fans’ signs read, “We Want Berkeley (to have mercy on us).” Stanford, unable to mount a decent recruitment class because Cal takes every player the Cardinal want, goes winless for the 11th season in a row.

It’s glorious. It’s beautiful. And it’s possible. Possible in video games at least.

NCAA Football 14 was the last entry in Electronic Art’s NCAA Football video game series before being canceled because of a series of high-profile lawsuits. These lawsuits, which cost EA and the NCAA more than $60 million, alleged that the game mimicked players’ physical appearances, positions and jersey numbers, therefore, representing the players without consent or compensation. NCAA bylaws, which barred student-athletes from receiving financial compensation for their image and likeness, only confounded the moral outrage. The NCAA and EA could profit from student-athlete representation, but the players themselves could not.

SB 206, which mandates college athletes be allowed to profit from their image and likeness, has opened the window for a revival of the series. CEO of EA Andrew Wilson said at a conference in May that EA would “jump at the opportunity” to get back into the market of college sports video games, adding that there are “many, many (fans), maybe even millions, who hope that is the case.”

We need a new NCAA Football video game.

Whether you’re a fan of legendary teams such as Alabama and LSU, mediocre programs such as Cal or USC, or colleges such as Stanford and Division II schools, you need this.

Success in college football is rare to come by and even more difficult to sustain. Outside of SEC powerhouses, Ohio State, Clemson and a few other elite programs, most teams struggle to stay in the top 25 consistently, let alone have a shot to win a title. Year after year, fans watch their teams get destroyed in rivalry games, lose marquee matchups and miss bowl games.

But in NCAA Football video games, none of that matters. Gone are the days when your quarterback goes out in week four with a shoulder injury. Never again does your allegedly top-rated defense give up 35 points to marquee conference opponents. Heartbreak, disappointment and devastation are no longer the only emotions you associate with college football.

Instead, games such as NCAA Football 14 give you the chance to live out your fantasy. Never won a national championship? Win as many you want. Never beaten your school’s rival? Set the difficulty to rookie and run up the score into the triple digits (for reference, my latest game against Stanford was 163-0). Never had a five-star recruit? Steal players from the SEC with just the click of a button.

But a new NCAA Football video game is not just for the super fans who want to live pixelated fantasies. It’s for the student-athletes as well.

While no reports indicate the exact level of compensation that college football players would receive if a new game were to pay for a player’s representation, it isn’t far-fetched to imagine players receiving hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Several players, in the settlements that brought the NCAA video game franchise to a close, received more than a thousand dollars for the illegal use of their likeness and image.

Schools have been paid more than $143,000 for the use of their logo, school name and stadium. NCAA video games netted more than $1.3 billion for EA and were about 5% of its yearly revenue. All of this is to say that there is money to be made here, and it isn’t unreasonable to imagine players being one of the primary financial beneficiaries of a new game.

But even if the game is not a major source of revenue for players, there is still something to be said for being able to play yourself in a video game.

Former Tennessee tight end Austin Pope said, “I always thought growing up, I can’t wait to be on the game, to have my own rating, to have them actually create me. But then obviously once I got to college they stopped making the game — of course. It was just a dream that got crushed.”

Ultimately, SB 206 alone will not push a new game to market. But with several states potentially implementing their own versions of California’s law, and the NCAA indicating its intent to change the rules regarding compensation of likeness and image, a renewal of EA’s NCAA Football is on the horizon. For the sake of video game aficionados, football fanatics and student-athletes, let’s hope that future is sooner rather than later.

Michael Brust is a weekly columnist. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBesports.