College Football Returns to EA Games

Electronic Arts bring back NCAA Football game series

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EA returns with a new college football game after more than seven years. This title will be the 22nd game of the series.

Video game development company Electronic Arts (EA), best known for their sports games, has officially announced the return of one of their most popular franchises of all time, their NCAA Football series.

The announcement, posted to Twitter on Feb. 2 this year, comes after nearly eight years of both college football and video game fans begging for the series to return. The first game to sport the NCAA Football title was NCAA Football 98. Released in 1997, the game looks primitive compared to graphics of today’s sports video games, such as the Madden series. 

The series had a long and prosperous 16-year run in the hands of sports fans and gamers alike, as NCAA Football 14 sold over 1 million copies. However, the series was abruptly stopped after a group of college football and basketball players sued EA for using their likenesses without their permission. The ensuing lawsuit saw EA shell out millions of dollars to the players in their game, leading to the cancellation of the series.

This time though, EA has devised a plan to work around the NCAA and their policies by working with the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) to gain legal access to school logos, stadiums and uniforms.

The decision to work with the CLC instead of the NCAA comes with multiple potential changes to the base of the game. First, the actual players of the NCAA won’t be represented in the game at all due primarily to the controversy surrounding how players receive compensation off of their names being used in products like video games. EA is also aiming to change the series name to EA Sports College Football. 

However, potentially due to the efforts of congressional lawmakers, player’s likenesses may remain in the game as many have hoped. A bill, bipartisanly supported and co-authored by Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), aims to allow collegiate-level athletes to earn money from endorsement deals, such as using their likenesses in video games. Currently, the NCAA forbids college athletes from accepting any sort of payment from third parties in exchange for the use of his or her name, image and likeness (NIL).

This bill, if passed, would modify NCAA’s NIL rules as soon as July of 2021, giving federal-level guidelines on how college athletes, universities and the NCAA should dive into the melting pot that is the potential benefits coming from third-party companies interested in offering sponsorships.

“Right now, I feel a lot of decision has to do with what school gives them the biggest spotlight for when they leave. I could see smaller schools becoming a larger option for athletes if they can profit off their NIL,” said Mike Straw, the Managing Editor at Sports Gamer Online, an online blog and YouTube Channel that specializes in news regarding Sports Video Games. “If a player takes a small school to the next level, you can very well see that player get endorsement deals from local businesses right off the bat.”

“Imagine if Khalil Mack could’ve profited off of NIL when at the University at Buffalo?” said Straw. “He’d have been a local marketing superstar. With NIL, athletes more famous for their achievements in college like Johnny Manziel, Christian Laettner, and Tim Tebow could receive compensation for their work.

Yet, it’s still ultimately up to universities and the players themselves if they want to participate. Most notably, Notre Dame University has stated that they don’t want to participate in the game unless the licensing issue has been solved to a degree that they deem worthy. Without the presence of iconic college football programs and their players, like Notre Dame, the game may fall behind both in the competitive video game market and in the eyes of loyal fans who’ve been waiting eight years. 

Regardless of how or when NIL laws come into play, information about when and where the game would release has not been officially released. However, leaked documents from the CLC obtained by sports podcast and blog Extra Points claim that EA aims to release the game around 2023 on next generation consoles. There has been no word on whether the game would release on previous generation consoles or PCs.

With the availability of new mechanics and graphics available to EA developers that have been utilized in EA’s Madden series, such as better passing, hit stick and juking mechanics, high expectations have been set for the game. NCAA Football 14 also featured an extremely deep dynasty mode, where players would take a hold of a university’s coaching, playmaking, recruiting and budget, which many either want to see revamped or further explored. 

“They have a lot of really high expectations and potential for this game. There’s obviously going to be a remaster of the graphics and mechanics, and the modes should have certain new features in general,” sophomore Daniel Brame said. “I am afraid that EA might do what they did with ‘Madden’ though, that they’re going to add stuff like microtransactions.” 

EA’s annual Madden franchise has been the top-dog when it comes to football video games. Despite its popularity, the past few years have seen fans criticize the series for focusing less on improving the game over time through better graphics, mechanics and game modes, and instead prioritizing microtransactions, pointless special events and essentially giving fans an overpriced roster update year after year. Metacritic is a popular online platform for game reviews. NCAA Football 14 has a Metacritic game review score of 77, while the most recent Madden game, Madden 21, has a score of 63.

“I think whatever expectations people have for the game are going to be unrealistic and that it’s just going to be a reskin of a ‘Madden’ game with maybe some extra features,” sophomore Will Romeiser said. “I think people are going to get too hyped for it and then are going to say ‘well this sucks it’s just Madden.’”

While the game could deliver or disappoint, it’s a significant stepping stone in both the sports video game landscape and in the ways college athletes interact with their fans through sponsors and the use of their name. The commercial success of the game could very well see other NCAA sports video game franchises being revived as well, such as 2K’s College Hoops and EA’s MVP: NCAA Baseball, leading to a revitalization of the consistent excitement that college sports video games have generated among fans.