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EA Sports College Football development update

EA Sports College Football: How Did We Get Here

It’s been a long, and I mean long, eight years since the last College Football game from EA Sports was released. To give an idea just how long eight years truly is let’s put this into a bit of perspective.

First, we’ve gone through a full console generation without a new game. Back in 2013, Barack Obama was just starting his second term as President of the United States. Hell, even the Harlem Shake was dominating the internet. So, yea, 2013 feels like a lifetime ago for many. 

But, now that EA Sports College Football is officially coming back, all can be forgiven and forgotten. But, how exactly did we get here? How did we get to the point where it became possible for EA Sports to, once again, develop and release a college football video game?

The Lead Up

To get a clear answer, we have to go back again to 2013. NCAA Football 14 was just released to mixed reviews from many, though the absence of the series has made the heart grow fonder. 

Not long after its launch, the lawsuit between former UCLA Basketball star Ed O’Bannon and the NCAA that was first filed back in 2009 went to trial. The judge in the trial ruled that the NCAA had been violating antitrust laws by barring payments to student-athletes for their likenesses in video games, DVDs, apparel, and memorabilia. 

Of course, the NCAA argued that they did nothing wrong, but the court obviously saw otherwise. The verdict meant that student-athletes owned their own name and likeness, no matter what the NCAA believed. 

However, despite that victory in court, companies had been too hesitant to touch college sports games in general, let alone an NCAA Football game. For EA specifically, things had been extremely rocky because of the lawsuit. 

EA was dismissed from the O’Bannon lawsuit in 2011, but that wasn’t to be permanent after US District Court Judge Claudia Wilken reversed the decision after it came to light that EA agreed to not pay former college athletes after their careers ended. As part of that case, emails were released that showed that the NCAA knew that EA Sports was intentionally resembling current and past college athletes in its games. 

In 2013 it all came to a head when EA and the College Licensing Committee (CLC) came to a settlement agreement with O’Bannon and other plaintiffs in the suit for a total of $40 million. That settlement in 2013 effectively ended the NCAA Football series from EA Sports.

What’s Happened Since?

Once the dust settled from the O’Bannon case, things kept moving along to get the student-athletes more rights when it came to compensation.

Multiple states including Florida, California, and New York have either proposed or passed laws allowing student-athletes to profit off their own likenesses. In April 2020, it was then announced that the NCAA was going to create a new policy for athletes in regards to compensation for third-party endorsements from various businesses and appearances. 

In this Sept. 18, 2010, file photo, former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon Jr. sits in his office in Henderson, Nev. Five years after the former UCLA star filed his antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, it went to trial June 9 in a California courtroom.
Ed O’Bannon (Photo Credit: Isaac Brekken/Associated Press)

That news sounded like a great chance for the return of a college sports game. But it was revealed that as part of that plan, players, who would have to be licensed on an individual basis similar to boxers, would not be allowed to reference any trademarks or other intellectual property (IP) owned by the school the student attends. 

At the time, Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said that the idea of group licensing with the student-athletes just wasn’t viable.

“It was the group’s conclusion that group licenses, which would combine school trademarks with student-athlete NIL in products like video games, replica jerseys, and trading card collections are unworkable in college sports,” she said.

So, things progressed forward in a way that wouldn’t allow players to be used in games featuring NCAA teams with the potential to revisit group licensing as early as 2021. As we’ve seen with recent Madden NFL games, having college teams without authentic players can easily be done on a smaller scale. But what about a full game? 

Fast forward to February 2, 2021. A day that will live in the minds and hearts of sports gamers forever. The day that a AAA college football game was announced. 

What’s Next For EA Sports College Football?

Now that we know the game is coming, the big question is what’s next? How authentic will this new EA Sports College Football game be?

EA Sports College Football is likely to utilize the same engine as Madden NFL.

According to EA’s press release, the game will include more than 100 schools featuring logos, stadiums, uniforms, and more. As far as those schools go, it’s pretty easy to assume that all of the Power 5 programs like Alabama, USC, Clemson, Auburn, etc. will be in. Independent programs like Notre Dame and BYU would almost certainly be a lock along with some of the schools from Group of Five conferences like the American, Conference USA, and the MAC. 

From a gameplay standpoint, the announcement also states that EA Sports will be the “exclusive developer of simulation college football video game experiences.” This is similar to the agreement EA Sports has with the NFL and NFLPA where arcade and other non-simulation games are open to be made, which is what we see happening with the upcoming NFL game from 2K Sports. One other thing to note is that, like with the old NCAA Football series, the new EA Sports College Football game is likely to utilize the same engine that Madden NFL is on. So, a warning to those that are completely anti-Madden. If you don’t like how Madden plays and feels, it might be safe to assume you won’t like this. But, we’ll see. 

Features wise, that’s still one of the big unknowns. We can expect a dynasty mode of some sort, but a single-player career, online dynasty, and others are still up in the air. It’s even hard to guess if Ultimate Team will be a part of the new game as there will be no players to license. That said, if there’s any company that can figure out that aspect, it’s EA Sports so, who knows. Maybe they just have an Ultimate Team mode based around legends and other past players.

Lastly, the release window is the biggest talking point right now. EA Sports College Football is confirmed to be coming to the next-gen — err current gen — PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. However, the company is saying that development of the game is “just underway”. That could lend credence to the idea that the game will only be on the new systems, allowing the developers to focus on optimizing for the new platforms and getting more into the game.

Nevertheless there will be plenty of time to speculate and talk about what’s to come, but, for now, we can all celebrate with the return of a game that so many never thought would come back.

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