If the EA Sports NCAA Football video-game series isn't coming to an end, at the very least it's about to undergo a major branding change.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that it will not renew its licensing contract with EA Sports, which expires next June. The 2014 edition of NCAA Football will be the last under its current name.
The relationship between the virtual college football players featured in the game and the real-life players upon which their EA Sports' counterparts appear to have been modeled is at the heart of the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit, which has since expanded into a class-action suit that could force athletics programs to split TV revenues with its players.
"We are confident in our legal position regarding the use of our trademarks in video games," the NCAA said in its statement. "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."
But although the NCAA specifies that the 2014 game "will be the last to include the NCAA's name and logo," the statement leaves the door open for the game to continue largely unchanged -- if the conferences and schools featured in the game elect not to follow the NCAA's lead.
"Member colleges and universities license their own trademarks and other intellectual property for the video game," the NCAA writes. "They will have to independently decide whether to continue those business arrangements in the future."
If the NCAA's conferences and entities like the Collegiate Licensing Company -- which handles licensing issues for virtually every school in the FBS -- choose to continue their cooperation with EA, the only major change to the series would be the name. ESPN has reported, citing sources, that the game will continue as College Football '15 next year.
EA Sports has yet to comment publicly.
On the other hand, the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the NCAA and EA Sports could make renewing those licenses individually an awkward proposition in the long-term. One thing is clear: despite its many, many public attempts to declare its legal innocence and insistence that the lawsuit will not change the status of the NCAA's athletes, Mark Emmert's organization is acutely aware of the suit and its possible ramifications. And those ramifications are already looming large enough to change NCAA policy.
UPDATE: EA confirmed late Wednesday via press release that it will launch a new game next year. Here's the release:
"By now, most fans will have heard that EA's licensing agreement with the NCAA is set to expire and that we have agreed to part ways. I'm sure gamers are wondering what this means.
"This is simple: EA SPORTS will continue to develop and publish college football games, but we will no longer include the NCAA names and marks. Our relationship with the Collegiate Licensing Company 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.
"We took big creative strides with this year's college game and you'll see much more in the future. We love college football and look forward to making more games for our fans."