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Without Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten, EA football is dead to me

I treasure my time on PlayStation 3. It goes mostly neglected by me because – unlike my son – I don't have the stomach or time to kill insurgents all day on Call of Duty.

But I loves me some EA Sports Football. Before Ed O'Bannon knew a mass tort from a Pop Tart the game was the closest thing to college football there was – without getting off the couch. With EA it was possible to win a Heisman in March, go recruiting during a dead period. And always feel so … alive.

For a middle-aged man who can't juke a street light, hitting that circle key (spin move) was pure heaven. Especially when the son was in full cackle leading dad, 58-6.

You may have missed it this week but it's going away -- the EA football franchise. Just an opinion but, to me, that's a certainty now. Slowly and agonizingly, but it's going away at some point. The SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 became the latest to jump the trademark ship when they pulled their licenses from game manufacturer Entertainment Arts. No longer will those conferences allow their logos and trademarks to be displayed. Expect other BCS conferences, at least, to follow suit.

Then, you know what will kill EA? The lack of those logos, copyrights and trademarks. They mean everything in our culture. Brands sell. Status rules. Those of you who have ever chosen granite over Formica counter tops, can relate. It's why we buy Tommy Bahama instead of JC Penney You may settle for Target but you want Polo.

It's why we prefer Mercedes to Smart Cars.

Ask Johnny Football.

At this rate of pull out, the annual EA football cover competition will be down to a Pop Warner team from Passaic and Lee Corso's publicist.

The NCAA already said last month it wasn't renewing its license with EA. For the moment, all of it is legal maneuvering in the O'Bannon suit that has sucked too much joy and legal fees from college sports lately. The NCAA, schools and conferences are positioning to avoid a legal nuclear winter, concerned that a settlement or jury trial could rip the amateur model asunder. They all want to separate themselves from any hint of liability.

Meanwhile, the game will go on for now but in diminished form. The SEC will be taking on some ersatz, legally-inoffensive name like “Dixie League”. The Big Ten will become “The Midwest Conference” or some such. The Pac-12? “Conference That DirecTV Forgot” sounds about right.

And don't forget those BCS leagues will probably eventually yank the rights to the new-look postseason in 2014. Except you can't get more generic than College Football Playoff. (Remember when one Twitter wise-ass posited that CFP executive director Bill Hancock's dog is named “dog”?)

In the future, expect the Rose Bowl to be run by “The Tournament of Fragrant Flowers Committee”. The Sugar Bowl would become an artificial sweetener. Renaming the Orange Bowl will be easy. How about the “Low-Hanging Fruit Classic” considering the frequent grief endured by bowl partner ACC?

It's not possible to get more distressingly faceless unless you're eagerly awaiting the newly deconstructed ShopNCAASports.com. (“Property of Mark Emmert” shirts anyone?)

The same reason the NCAA partnered with … someone to sell Reggie Bush's authentic autograph online is the same reason that without the Pac-12, Big Ten and Rose Bowl trademarks EA football will be something definitely unauthentic. If you've watched TV for 20 seconds lately, you know the reality sells whether it's The Bachelor or the Conference USA championship game.

EA football is headed toward something less real. You can go generic for only so long until the product is damaged beyond repair, until the public votes with its wallet. Until it calls B.S. on … “There's speed, then there's Dixie League speed.”

There's a big difference in shopping sprees at Nordstrom and Everything Is 99 Cents. In these United States of America, we are also proud consumer citizens of the United Colors of Benetton. We love our status symbols. You are what you wear. Image is everything.

A wise man (Jimmy Choo?) once said you're only as good as your next pair of shoes. Bentleys over Beetles, you know? It's the reason we buy Tylenol instead of Walgreen's aspirin or Captain Crunch when Brand X Sugar Bombs are cheaper.

Some sports business experts – I'll call them EA apologists – have proclaimed all is well. They say EA football will go on. They point out the individual teams can still keep their agreements with Electronic Arts to use their anonymous (wink, wink) players in competition.

But those expert apologists are missing the point.

It's the branding that will kill EA football. Rather, the lack of it. And for the record, I hate that term – “branding”. Michigan AD Dave Brandon came from the world of fast-food pizza using the same kind of language to transform an iconic program. If brands didn't mean anything then Brandon wouldn't have a job.

The former Domino's CEO made scores of Michigan traditionalists cringe when he changed decades of tradition. Brandon deemed that it was too expensive -- $400,000 -- to take the school's band to last year's Alabama game in Dallas. (Money was eventually raised privately for the band to make a trip.) He also increased the marketing budget, seemingly introduced some sort of new throwback every other week and established personal seat licenses.

Michigan fans forked over money for all of it because it was still Michigan.

What we're witnessing is that much-speculated breakaway of the power conferences on a game disc. It's Division 4 in HD. The conferences are taking their video game and going home.

Perhaps someday when this O'Bannon nonsense is over all the conferences can bundle the rights again, decide to put players' names on the jerseys, warehouse the profits and pay them a slice when they graduate. Gamers and players' rights advocates would rejoice.

Even if EA survives in a new, diminished form (Pop Warner 15?), it is now headed to a low-rent oldies bin with Sega Genesis. Think Pong instead of 3-D. See, gaming wows us because technology evolves by the minute. What's coming is devolution, a slice of Americana left in the fridge too long. Without those iconic trademarks, there will be something missing, something definitively unofficial about college football's definitive, official game.

A future screen shot of EA makes this particular gamer shudder: Braxton Miller, in the moments after winning that Midwest League title, clenching a daffodil between his teeth.

 
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