Notre Dame Not Rushing into CFB Video Game Is a Fine Stance Right Now

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2021

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, center, jogs onto the field alongside his team for at the start of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game against Alabama in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

When EA Sports revealed a plan to revive its beloved college football video game, the small print took an understandable backseat to the excitement that accompanied the announcement.

Fans of the NCAA Football series have waited eight years for that news. The official statement sparked a wave of joy across the sport. The initial reports mentioned more than 100 teams have agreed to be featured. Sure, that's not all 130 programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but any school not included in that number would have until at least next year to join the party.

Notre Dame, however, is among the holdouts for a logical reason. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick released a statement Monday explaining why Notre Dame isn't yet on board:

"Notre Dame Athletics welcomes the return of EA Sports College Football, a video game series that has historically helped promote interest in college football. Notre Dame will not, however, participate in the game until such time as rules have been finalized governing the participation of our student-athletes.

"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 in the game."

At first glance, a big-name brand holding out may seem senseless. Couldn't this negatively impact recruiting? Will fans ever have a chance to play as the Fighting Irish?

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The quick version: Notre Dame is waiting for group licensing.

While there's momentum for reform with regard to college athlete compensation, the timeline for new guidelines is unclear. And there's no guarantee group licensing will be included initially.

Group licensing would allow players to collectively negotiate with EA Sports for use of their names, images and likenesses (NIL). It's a key component of creating the most authentic experience—and a large contributor to why EA Sports paused the series.

It's fair to expect EA Sports will offer the option to download a community-built roster—which may perfectly match reality. That capability is what fueled the survival of NCAA Football 14.

While 100-plus schools have authorized their brand and passively accepted a "backdoor" roster download—which isn't necessarily a bad thing—Notre Dame is taking an all-or-nothing approach. The university is saying it won't permit the use of its name, logo, stadium, etc., unless its players are compensated.

To be clear, this stance may change. Notre Dame's "strong desire" for athletes to directly benefit from a potential video game doesn't mean it absolutely won't participate until then.

But because the game won't be released until 2022 at the earliest, it's a low-risk maneuver that supports Notre Dame's sell of a player-first program.

Additionally, this can apply more pressure to solve the group licensing issue.

The NCAA will soon update its rules regarding NIL deals. But in January, it indefinitely delayed a proposal that would allow athletes to accept endorsement money. This is due in part to the NCAA waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on whether NCAA rules that restrict athlete compensation violate antitrust laws.

Several state and federal lawmakers have introduced or passed legislation governing NIL. But not every proposal allows for group licensing, which complicates the process of, say, a video game. Without group licensing, EA Sports would be limited to generic rosters and downloadable content.

Even as NIL changes are certain, the NCAA is probably hoping to avoid group licensing. In order to protect amateurism—no matter its flawed intent—the NCAA likely doesn't want athletes to formally organize and sell their likenesses as a group. The long-term ramifications might be problematic for the NCAA.

Since those dominoes must start falling first, Notre Dame and others have time to assess the impending changes.

For now, it's fun to consider a generic replacement. Are you ready for the South Bend Shamrocks? They have yellow chrome helmets with the iconic Touchdown Joshua mural looming in the background.

In seriousness, criticism of the holdouts would be premature. The likely result is all of them, most notably Notre Dame, end up a part of the game.

The question is whether it'll be a product of group licensing—the ideal outcome—or the fear of missing out.

           

Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.