Will NCAA Basketball Ever Make a Return?

Whatever happened to NCAA Basketball, the video game franchise based on college basketball? It’s a question that we’ve received frequently, ever since we started covering the business between Ed O’Bannon and the NCAA.

While there are a large number of people who’d like to see NCAA Football make a return, including popular figures like Kirk Herbstreit and Todd Howard, there are a lot of people who’d like to see NCAA Basketball return as well. It’s a topic that’s come up frequently in our coverage on the subject. Whenever we’d receive news on the case, people would ask, “What about basketball?”

We hear you! Fans of college football have only gone 3 years without seeing a new game in that franchise, but fans of basketball have gone much longer. In fact, the last iteration of NCAA Basketball was released in 2009. That’s more than twice as long.

So what happened, why did NCAA Basketball end in 2009, and why did NCAA Football continue for several more years? It’s an interesting question, but unfortunately at the moment, all we can do is speculate.

In 2010, the franchise was officially shelved. David Tinson, speaking on behalf of EA Sports as Senior Director of Communications told Game Informer that they were “currently reviewing the future” of their NCAA Basketball franchise. We all know what followed, as it’s now 2016 and we’re left without any college basketball game on the market.

What’s interesting about the decision is that he’s also quoted as saying that EA would remain a committed partner to the NCAA. While it seems to have been the NCAA’s decision and not EA’s, that partnership came to an unfortunate end in 2013 as a result of the Ed O’Bannon case, leading many to speculate that EA would probably not be involved if the NCAA were to return to video games.

Clearly the decision to cease production of NCAA Basketball wasn’t due to the lawsuit, as EA and the NCAA maintained their partnership after the fact. So then, what was it that made EA decide to cancel the franchise? It’s possible that it was a lack of sales combined with middling reviews.

Taking a look at Metacritic, you can see that the franchise varied in critical opinion from installation to installation, even receiving different scores across platforms. NCAA Basketball 09 received a 74 at its peak with the March Madness edition of the game, unsurprisingly scoring a much lower 55 on the PS2.

It seems that NCAA Basketball 10 didn’t fare much better, though both versions of the game did manage to score 75, which Metacritic considers to be positive. But these are just critical reviews of the game, which aren’t always the most important factor. In fact, a 75 is a pretty good score when you consider that games with lower scores have managed sequels.

So what about the sales? Unfortunately, data on the sales is hard to find. VG Chartz which offers vague sales data says that NCAA Basketball 10 sold 300,000 copies. This ancient article from GameSpot claims that the game only sold 155,000.

Whether it was 155,000 or 300,000, the numbers aren’t exactly good. To put them in perspective, the NBA 2K franchise was selling around 2 million copies at the same time. NBA 2K9 sold a confirmed and combined 2 million.

College sports might not necessarily be on the same level as professional sports, but they’re certainly the next best thing. I’ve already talked about the money that they generate. The NCAA as a whole nearly topped 1 billion in revenue in the 2014 fiscal year.

There might be big money in college sports, but if the games are only selling between 100,000 and 300,000 copies, it might not have been enough. By comparison, NCAA Football topped the NPD charts for the month it was released in 2014, which is typically a pretty good sign.

The games that it beat out that month? Minecraft, The Last of Us, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and NBA 2K13. That’s no small feat, and while the NPD report doesn’t include the number of sales each title has in a given month, it’s clear that NCAA Football was still doing well in 2013.

It seems to reason then, that the motivating factor for EA Sports may have been sales. Clearly, EA wanted to hold onto their partnership with the NCAA, as NCAA Football saw continued release to good sales. It’s entirely possible that NCAA Basketball wasn’t performing as well as they’d liked.

But, there’s another possibility as well. NCAA Basketball could have been cancelled as a result of the lawsuit, which was initially filed in July 2009. While that lawsuit would eventually go on to impact NCAA video games as a whole, it’s possible that EA thought it best to cut ties with college basketball and wait it out until everything blew over.

It’s hard to say definitively why NCAA Basketball was shelved ahead of NCAA Football. For now, all we can do is speculate until someone speaks on the matter. Based on what I’ve read however, it seems like comes down to a combination of poor sales and a mounting lawsuit.

Now that the lawsuit is over and athletes are finally receiving their checks, maybe we’ll see it return. As for whether or not we’ll see that return in 2017 season? The evidence points to it being unlikely, but we’ll still hold out hope. If NCAA Football found itself staying in place despite interest from EA and the fans, it’s unlikely that we’ll see NCAA Basketball return next season.

If we were going to see NCAA Basketball 17, we’d probably know by now. Maybe we’ll see NCAA Basketball 18 next year.