Yesterday's sudden NCAA rule change on athletes making money from their name, image, and likeness made an immediate impact, and fans are suddenly clamoring for college sports video games to return.
With NCAA 22 not happening and EA Sports College Football 24 still years away, how soon will we actually see college athletes in video games?
NCAA rule change for athletes making money is the first step
After years of debate and a vigorous fight against NCAA rules that prohibited athletes from making money off their name, image, or likeness through endorsement deals or any other way, things are finally changing.
The news was broken yesterday by multiple major outlets, and it quickly sparked excitement for the potential return of major college sports video game franchises like NCAA Football or NCAA Basketball.
The connection between college sports and video games runs deep, with NCAA Basketball first releasing on the SNES in 1992 and EA Sports releasing Bill Walsh College Football just one year later on Sega Genesis.
Over the last 15 or so years, several major college sports gaming franchises fell apart for a variety of reasons, with NCAA Football 14 (EA Sports & EA Tiburon), College Hoops 2K8 (2K Sports & Visual Concepts), MVP 07: NCAA Baseball (EA Sports & EA Canada), and NCAA Basketball 10 (Electronic Arts & EA Canada) marking the end of a series.
While it's perfectly understandable for fans to be excited about the possibility of any of these games seeing a revival, it's unlikely that can happen for at least two more years.
EA Sports College Football 24 is still two years away
We actually just received more news about the impending EA Sports College Football series a few days ago thanks to new reporting by Matt Brown of Extra Points.
Brown acquired new documents outlining the contract between EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company, and most notable is the term they've agreed upon.
July 1, 2023 is the earliest possible release date for what we now know will be EA Sports College Football 24, unless the NCAA decides to now cut a deal in order to put their name back on the franchise.
It's an understandable time frame, as there is still plenty of negotiation needed with individual schools to get them on board, and developing a sequel to a game released in 2013 isn't exactly an overnight task.
On top of that, there's another hurdle that may still make the inclusion of collegiate athletes in college sports games a challenge.
NCAA athletes desperately need a union
While the NCAA rule change may seem cut and dry, there's still a network of laws and regulations between schools, states, and regional governments that can interfere with the ability of athletes to capitalize on this change.
In reality, the biggest thing that will speed up the process of making a college sports video game happen is a union like the National Basketball Players Association or the MLB Player's Association that can collectively bargain on their behalf.
Most sports video games lean on large group licensing agreements with athletes for their name, image, and likeness rights that are typically negotiated by unions.
Look no further than the covers of MLB The Show 21, NBA 2K21, and Madden 22 and you'll spot the MLB Players Association, NFL Players Association, and National Basketball Players Association all have their logos on the cover of these games.
These organizations are crucial in streamlining and simplifying a process that could quickly get out of hand if video game companies were trying to make individual deals with every college athlete in an entire game.
Unfortunately, the United States Congress is the major roadblock, as they've yet to pass legislation allowing for a uniform name, image, and likeness rights standard across the country.
Republicans insist on a narrow low specific to those rights, but Democrats have pushed for schools to provide increased medical coverage, academic benefits, and the right to collectively bargain in the future, and that final piece is key for college sports video games.
Madden 22, NBA 2K22, and MLB The Show 21 could add college athletes
The gray area that finally comes into play and may be the way we first start seeing some college athletes filter into sports video games is with individual deals for the major sports franchises that already exist.
While MLB The Show 21 or the upcoming Madden 22 and NBA 2K22 couldn't go as far as including large groups of athletes or multiple schools, the modern standard of sports video games operating as a constantly updated live service leaves an opening.
All three of these major gaming franchises have their own version of Ultimate Team, a game mode with a collectible card system that allows you to build a dream team of past and present athletes.
Future athletes might be on the table now, as any prominent NCAA athlete likely now has the option to pursue an individual deal with one of these gaming companies.
Vanderbilt's Jack Leiter is one of the most highly touted pitching prospects in NCAA baseball today, but he's also the son of MLB legend and current MLB Network analyst Al Leiter, who is currently in MLB The Show 21.
With MLB The Show 21 constantly adding new content, it now looks completely plausible that we could see someone like Jack Leiter make an individual deal with Sony San Diego for a special appearance in the game via Diamond Dynasty.
This is just one small example, but the possibilities are limitless, and it's unlikely that gaming companies will pass up an opportunity to capitalize on this new change soon if one presents itself.
We're still years away from a full college sports video game, but playing as a college athlete in an established sports video game might be right around the corner.