NCAA won’t renew contract with EA Sports

NEW YORK — Hang on to NCAA Football 2014, all you video game fans. It will be a collector’s edition.

The NCAA said Wednesday it will bar Electronic Arts Inc. from using its logo and name beginning next year. The move ends a lucrative, eight-year business deal with the gaming industry giant and it comes as the NCAA fights a high-profile lawsuit that says the governing body owes billions of dollars to former players for allowing their likenesses to be used for free.

The NCAA said it won’t seek a new contract with EA Sports, which manufactures the popular game, beyond the current one that expires in June 2014. However, that won’t stop EA Sports from producing a college football video game depicting powerhouse schools such as Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon, and the Redwood City, Calif.-based company made that clear.

“EA Sports will continue to develop and publish college football games, but we will no longer include the NCAA names and marks,” said Andrew Wilson, executive vice president. “Our relationship with the Collegiate Licensing Co. is strong and we are already working on a new game for next generation consoles which will launch next year and feature the college teams, conferences and all the innovation fans expect from EA Sports.”

The company reported $3.8 billion in net revenue during its last fiscal year and is well known not just for its NCAA Football franchise but its Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer and other games.

NCAA Football allows participants to play as any major college football team, though unlike in its professional sports games, the names of players are not used. The similarities between the avatars in the game and actual college football players are at the root of a legal fight that could alter the way the NCAA does business in the future.

The NCAA is in the midst of a long legal battle that started with a lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon after he was shown a video game with an avatar playing for the Bruins that played a lot like him.

The lawsuit, which also names EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company that handles trademark licensing for dozens of schools, the NCAA and various conferences, has expanded to include several former athletes who claim the NCAA and EA Sports have used their names and likenesses without compensation and demand the NCAA find a way to give players a cut of the billions of dollars earned from live broadcasts, memorabilia sales and video games.

“We are confident in our legal position regarding the use of our trademarks in video games,” the NCAA said. “But given the current business climate and costs of litigation, we determined participating in this game is not in the best interests of the NCAA.

“The NCAA has never licensed the use of current student-athlete names, images or likenesses to EA. The NCAA has no involvement in licenses between EA and former student-athletes.”

Still, the NCAA said its members can seek arrangements with video game manufacturers — if they wish.

“Member colleges and universities license their own trademarks and other intellectual property for the video game,” the NCAA said. “They will have to independently decide whether to continue those business arrangements in the future.”

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