I’m sorry, this was the first Notre Dame-related photo that came up in Getty and this newsletter IS about speaking Truth to Power.

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You probably heard that Notre Dame is not currently planning on participating in the upcoming EA Sports College Football video game. It isn’t because Notre Dame hates video games, or wants more licensing money, or is worried people will make them join the digital ACC. They want athletes to be able to get a cut of the money as well, and current regulations won’t allow that to happen.

They’re not the only school to indicate they won’t participate. Shortly thereafter, Northwestern told the Chicago Sun-Times they’re not planning on being part of the game. Then Tulane followed suit.

After the Tulane announcement, I got curious, so I started hitting the phones. I’ve reached out to every private school in FBS, filed FOIAs to almost every public FBS and FCS institution, and have begun to call various public schools too.

Based on those conversations, and from confirmations from other reputable reporters, here’s where everybody stands, as best as I can determine:

Confirmed in:

Bowling Green, Liberty, Illinois, Kansas State, UConn, New Mexico State, Western Kentucky, USF

Confirmed “out” (at least for now):

Fresno State, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Tulane, FCS institutions

Have not yet made a decision:

BYU, Duke, Georgia, Kentucky, Hawaii, Michigan, USC

Other:

Spokespeople at Stanford and Rice both told me that they’re not sure what the school’s position is at the moment. A Syracuse spokesperson told me that the school did not currently have a comment, but would reach out to me when they did.

To the readers who have emailed or DMed, asking me to follow up with other individual schools, I’ll do my best to get to them soon. If I’ve missed anybody, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’m sure I have!

I’ll update this list and occasionally tweet it as I get more information.

Whoa, does this mean we’re going to have a video game without BYU, Notre Dame, Michigan and USC?

No. At least, I don’t think so.

Remember, we’re likely two years away from this video game actually coming out. It’s only been a few weeks since EA announced they were bringing the game back. There’s a lot of time for things to change.

I also can’t conclusively state that every currently undecided program is undecided for reasons similar to Notre Dame and Tulane. They may be undecided because they are trying to secure more favorable financial terms. They may be undecided simply because licensing projects can be complicated and university lawyers may need more time. I want to be careful about not leaping to conclusions based on this information.

So I wouldn’t panic about where any particular school is on this list right now. But even though we’re a long way from playing the game, I think this information is still newsworthy.

Let’s take a closer look at what Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick told the AP recently:

“I wasn’t trying to encourage other schools to make any decision one way or another relative to EA,” Swarbrick said.

But also:

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told The Associated Press on Monday that the school went public last week with its decision not to be included in the game to call attention to a major issue that has not been thoroughly addressed as the NCAA tries to reform NIL rules: group licensing.

“I’m certain we’ll head into August with name, image and likeness in some form,” Swarbrick told AP. “Among my concerns is that the group licensing dynamic is just not getting the consideration it needs. It’s really complex.”

I don’t think Swarbrick needs to directly lobby one way or another re: schools making decisions with EA and the CLC. Every school’s situation is different.

But Notre Dame, as a brand, has enormous cachet, and when somebody like Swarbrick talks, the industry listens. If Notre Dame’s leadership feels like that group licensing is not being sufficiently discussed, well, this is a great way to put pressure on their fellow schools, the federal government, the CLC, and anybody else that might need to be involved in a potential solution.

It would have been pretty easy for every school to issue a statement soon after EA’s initial announcement, saying they look forward to participating in the game. After all, their fans want it. Their athletes want it. It’d be an easy way to pick up some positive PR.

The fact that some major programs, several weeks later, are telling me that they’re not ready to make that announcement is noteworthy, in my humble opinion.

Honestly, I think Notre Dame’s decision here is pretty good PR

By getting out in front of this issue, Notre Dame can now tell potential athletes “hey, everybody likes to talk about being a Player’s Program, but how many are willing to leave money on the table if the athletes can’t benefit as well? We walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

Now, before you email me, yes, I am aware that Notre Dame still supports the concept of amateurism and yes they haven’t been perfect athlete allies and I’m just talking about this one specific instance.

But not only can the school use this for their recruiting pitch, but by going public and talking about group licensing now, they can actually force the issue. No disrespect to Tulane. I love you and your majestic mascot. But Tulane alone is not going to force any sort of regulatory change, in the NCAA or in Congress. But Notre Dame has that juice, especially if they can get another big school or two to join them. No, not Northwestern. I said a big school, not a journalism school.

This is just an educated guess, but I wouldn’t be shocked if that program ends up being Ohio State

Ohio State has turned down opportunities to be in the NBA2K and Madden franchises. I don’t think they’d want to give up any moral high ground to Notre Dame OR Michigan. They were rumored to be one of the major programs considering opting out of the last college football video game. And hey, if this matters, I do not believe they’re a current CLC client.

If a public school is going to go public and make a similar argument, Ohio State isn’t a bad guess.

I’ve reached out to the athletic department to ask if they’re planning on participating, and have not received a response.

I’ll keep asking about the game and will keep following along because I think this is an important story. Just remember we’re still very, very early in this process

I think group licensing is an important component to any potential NIL policy, and  not just for video games. Imagine Top Shot, but for college sports highlights? Well, you’d need a group license to pull that off. We’re in the middle of a massive trading card boom…you’d need a group license to pull that off too. More creative minds than my own can probably imagine other potential consumer products that would require mass licenses in order to pull off.

But none of those other projects have the cultural cachet to force policy changes. I think the video game could. The more schools like Notre Dame push for those changes, the more likely they become, in my humble opinion.

I wouldn’t sweat too much about having to play as FBS SOUTH BEND on your Playstation in a few years. I don’t think we’ll get to that point.

But I still think it’s worth paying attention to the process.

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