College sports video games have sadly become a distant memory to the fans who anticipated them annually, and the prospects of any returning in the next year or two remain just about nil.
However, various leaks in the last week have indicated that college basketball will be returning in limited form just two months from now. Not as its own product; rather, within the incredibly popular NBA 2K series.
2K Sports has obtained the license to at least 11 universities, and based on the console achievements list for NBA 2K16 (one of which is to "announce where your college ball will be played"), it appears that the schools will be utilized within the game's MyCareer Mode. MyCareer is a story based mode where the user controls only his or her single player through the narrative path that has been laid out for them.
The licenses for Arizona, Arizona State, Georgetown, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan, Texas, UCLA, UConn, Villanova, and Wisconsin have all been acquired by 2K through the Collegiate Licensing Company. Davidson is another that will likely be included and there's the possibility a few more will join them.
It's important to understand that this news is not an indication of a standalone college basketball game returning, and there are some major restrictions on what will even be possible with them in NBA 2K16.
None of the teams will have real life rosters, or even rosters similar to the players on those teams. There won't even be a way to edit player names. The NCAA will not be involved here in any fashion, so its branding is out. For example, a tournament couldn't even be referred to as "March Madness." There will only be a fraction of all the teams across the nation, so it's not as though anyone will be playing through a full season with them. They also may only be utilized within the story mode and not as actual teams to play with outside of that.
It won't be the college sports video game we used to know before the NCAA Football series was cancelled in 2013 and college basketball's version came to an end in 2009, but it's a positive step in a tough market.
Legal issues that led to conferences and universities pulling out of deals and the eventual settlement in the Ed O'Bannon class action suit brought the production of football's game to a close. The basketball version was simply no longer able to sell enough copies to justify its existence as development costs continued to rise.
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While the appeal process from the NCAA continues after its loss in the courts, and the settlement from EA Sports and the CLC to get themselves out of a possible judgment remains on their minds, there's really no legal risk involved with what 2K Sports would be doing here.
No universities have been sued throughout the proceedings and each school will continue to hold the rights to its own marks, licensing them out as they so please, as long as they don't infringe upon the likenesses of real life individuals in the process.
The only concerns would be related to the optics of the situation. That could explain why North Carolina, a university currently embroiled in academic scandal, has opted not to be involved. UNC's name has even been scrubbed from Michael Jordan's jersey on the special edition cover of the game.
NBA 2K16 is shaping up to be a massive product involving Spike Lee, several significant new features, and now college basketball all on top of what was already, arguably, the deepest sports video game available. There's still a lot to be answered regarding the game and the implementation of these teams, but it's hard not to get extremely excited by the partial revival of college gaming.