Notre Dame says it will not participate in the upcoming EA Sports college football video game until its athletes are allowed to share in the upside, the first major athletic department to publicly throw cold water on the much-anticipated return of the game.
“As those rules are developed, it is our strong desire that student-athletes be allowed to benefit directly from allowing their name, image and performance history to be used,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Monday.
EA Sports parent EA Inc. announced earlier this month that it would once again publish a college football video game. Its previous series, which has become a video-game cult classic of sorts, was discontinued in 2014 amid legal challenges to the NCAA’s amateurism model.
Though the announcement was light on details, the company intends to license official marks, uniforms and logos from as many top-tier football programs as possible. That includes more than 100 schools already on board via a partnership between EA and licensing firm CLC. With regards to players themselves, EA planned for the original release to use randomly generated player names, skill sets and jersey numbers. In short, the schools would be paid to participate, but the players would not.
It’s unclear whether EA would lawfully be able to license college athlete intellectual property, known colloquially as name, image and likeness rights (NIL). It’s a topic that currently sits in weird limbo, as the NCAA, which appeared to be on the cusp of allowing athletes to market themselves, postponed a vote scheduled for January.
Individual states are passing their own NIL laws, some of which take effect later this year, and there’s also the possibility of federal framework. Then there’s the uncertainly over group licenses required for a game of this nature; unlike pro leagues, there is no college football union. All that uncertainly likely led EA to punt on the issue until there were more defined rules.
“We are here to support our student-athletes,” Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said on Twitter following Swarbrick’s statement. “Much like we have empowered our players when it comes to providing a platform to speak on racial inequalities & social issues that are important to them, we must support them when it comes to NIL & the work that still needs to be done.”
It’s unclear whether other schools will follow Notre Dame’s lead, or if the refusal to participate from one of college football’s most popular teams might change EA’s plans. The game isn’t expected for a few years as it is, by which time the NIL landscape will likely be very different. A spokesman for the publisher didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
EA’s college football game remains tremendously popular, even with the seven-year hiatus. It’s the fourth most lucrative sports video-game franchise in U.S. history, trailing only FIFA, Madden and NBA 2K, according to NPD Group.