A longtime voice of EA Sports' NCAA Football series has spoken up about its demise, saying he was "as devastated or more devastated than anybody in the country" when he got the news it was canceled in 2013, and laid the blame for it entirely on one person.
"Ed O'Bannon ruined that for all of us," Kirk Herbstreit (pictured) told SEC Country.
O'Bannon is the former college basketball standout whose lawsuit against the NCAA originated with EA Sports' March Madness series, which used O'Bannon and his 1995 UCLA Bruins as an all-time great team without his or anyone's permission. In that game, as in NCAA Football, players were rated, rendered with their real-life biographical details and then had their names removed.
Over a period of several years, enough courts ruled that this was effectively a player's likeness that EA Sports and the NCAA's top licensing arm chose to settle the claims against them, to the tune of $60 million. The settlement also ended EA Sports' college business. O'Bannon's lawsuit, joined by other former college athletes, continues against the NCAA on other grounds.
Herbstreit, 46, a former Ohio State quarterback, was the in-game analyst for NCAA Football going back to NCAA Football 2002 (which released in 2001). With play-by-play man Brad Nessler, who also joined the series that year, the two were the longest-tenured video game announcers at the time EA Sports pulled the plug on their game in 2013. Ironically, Herbstreit and Nessler never worked a game together in real life for ESPN until two weeks after NCAA Football's cancellation.
"I can't even tell you how many hours we put in on that game," Herbstreit told SEC Country. He contends that all the college players he ever met, when the subject of NCAA Football came up, were "just thrilled to be in the game," and that he never met one who demanded or expected payment for the appearance.
A college football video game is, at best, a dormant concept until the NCAA can resolve the lawsuits facing it and the question of appropriate athlete compensation. Even then, to restore the kind of fully licensed smorgasbord for which the NCAA Football series was known would take considerable buy-in from 128 universities and 10 conferences. Before the series was canceled, several schools and conferences had announced they would no longer appear in the game, a concession to the bad publicity they'd suffered throughout this long running controversy. The annual licensing payment for an individual school topped out around $75,000, money easily forsaken.
Though members of the NCAA's five largest conferences have added — with permission — a "cost of attendance" cash stipend atop the other scholarship aid provided, use of likeness for commercial products remains a nonstarter for the athletics organization. Any athlete who endorses a product, whether compensated or otherwise, risks losing his or her eligibility and sanctions can be applied to their university's athletics program.
This is true of all sports, not just big moneymakers like football. In September, the NCAA insisted that EA Sports remove 13 women's soccer players from the rosters of three national teams in FIFA 16. EA Sports sharply criticized the NCAA's stance but complied, rather than threaten those athletes' eligibility at the American universities where they play. EA Sports said none of the players were individually compensated for their appearance.
Last week, a cryptic post on the long inactive Facebook page for the NCAA Football series raised hope that an announcement of the series' return was forthcoming. EA Sports tried to douse the matter by saying it was a reference to the College Football Playoff championship game being played that day.
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