One of Electronic Arts' top executives and the former president of EA Sports says the NCAA Football series not only could return, but is certain that one day it will.
Peter Moore, who moved from EA's chief operating officer to "chief competition officer" to oversee a huge push into esports, discussed the series in a wide-ranging video interview with IGN (beginning at the 56-minute mark below). It was a remarkable departure for a publisher that has been tight-lipped since shutting down NCAA Football in 2013 and settling a huge lawsuit brought by former college players.
"NCAA Football became the lightning rod for bigger issues regarding college athletes getting paid for their performance, not only in football but all college sports," said Moore, who was EA Sports president from 2007 to 2011. "And their likeness. It was a sad day when we realized, 'We are in the sights of a number of lawsuits.' A number of athletes which were all combined eventually into one singular suit and said, 'That's me.' When your lawyers' fees are more than the revenue you can expect to get in.
"It was an unclear future for us," Moore said. "It was a really sad day and we said, 'We just can't do this anymore.' And one day I know we'll be back."
Electronic Arts was sued back in 2008, mainly for its practice of building out NCAA Football rosters on the attributes of real-life, active college football players, then removing their names to skirt NCAA eligibility policies. EA Sports also offered a roster sharing feature, and users would traditionally spend hours renaming full rosters and share them over EA Sports' servers.
EA Sports did the same type of thing for a team of all-time college basketball greats in its defunct March Madness series. One of them, former UCLA standout Ed O'Bannon, sued. (Hall-of-fame running back Jim Brown also sued EA and recently settled a similar claim for $600,000.)
The case became a bellwether over how the NCAA and others commercialize amateur athletes' likenesses. Though EA, the NCAA and its chief licensing agent reached a $60 million settlement with athletes over the video games' use of likeness, litigation continues with regard to the enormous TV rights fees the NCAA commands for its broadcasts, and that has the potential to change college sports even more dramatically.
Electronic Arts was not the only maker of college sports video games in the last decade. 2K Sports made two editions of NCAA College Football early in the decade and then was well known for its College Hoops 2K series, which was closed in early 2008 as new management took over Take-Two Interactive and elected not to renew licensing agreements. They were not sued, however.
As nearly any mention of NCAA Football stirs excitement for the series' return, Moore's candor breaks a long silence EA has imposed on just about everyone connected to the game. Moore himself noted that settlement checks still are going out, limiting what he can say further. He didn't address how he thinks an NCAA Football series could return in the form that fans remember, with real-life rosters in which players are either fairly compensated or give permission for their use.
Just appearing in the game under their own name, whether or not they are paid, would be a violation of current NCAA rules and render them ineligible. Last year, the FIFA series, at the last minute, removed 13 players from its women's soccer rosters on demand from the NCAA, which said that appearance would jeopardize their eligibility at the American universities they also attend.