EA Sports has just announced (opens in new tab) that it will be producing college football video games after a seven-year hiatus. Information is slim, but the game's return means that whatever legal or ethical hurdles the game was facing after its pause in 2013 have since been resolved.
Unfortunately, the upcoming games will not feature any player likenesses nor NCAA branding.
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For those who never stopped believing...#EASPORTSCollegeFootball pic.twitter.com/2vDUYnbXEJFebruary 2, 2021
EA did not announce the terms of the deal, but it will be different than past NCAA games. The new game will not feature the names, images or likenesses of existing players. Through the Collegiate Licensing Company, EA has signed licensing deals with individual college football programs, circumventing the NCAA. It also looks as if "NCAA" will be dropped for the more generic "College Football" instead.
“We’ve just gotten to a point now where we think it’s the right time to bring [the college football game] back,” said EA Sports Executive Vice President and General Manager Cam Weber in an interview with The Washington Post (opens in new tab). “And we think we can build a deep enough game that really delivers on all those other core components and brings these schools and this kind of gameplay to life. And we’re at a point in time where the schools and conferences are comfortable partnering and building a college football game again and … a lot of that is excluding name, image, likeness of players.”
A troubled past
The franchise was discontinued following the release of NCAA Football 14 back in 2013. This was because both EA and the NCAA were taken to court for unpaid royalties to players for using their likenesses. The lawsuit was eventually settled.
The NCAA has had rules in place that prohibited college athletes from earning money. This broadly meant that universities couldn't pay its athletes, but extended to third-party endorsements as well.
This broad rule increasingly became unpopular as the NCAA continued to bring in billions in what was seen as an exploitation of student athletes. In 2019, the NCAA brought in $18.9 billion (opens in new tab) in revenue.
Student athletes were forbidden from doing anything that could be seen as profiting from their image. This included something as simple as starting a YouTube channel (opens in new tab) and earning ad revenue.
The NCAA has recently changed (opens in new tab) its rules to allow athletes to earn money. There are some caveats, however. Colleges cannot pay students, nor can students use a college name or logos for profit. But starting a YouTube channel should be on the table.
EA college football: Will fans buy it?
The appetite for NCAA Football 14 hit records during the pandemic. Used copies of the game have been selling for over $100 on eBay. The combination of free time, nostalgia, and short supply considering the game has been removed from digital storefronts is likely causing the sudden demand, per an analysis by Banner Society (opens in new tab).
At the moment, it's unclear if fans will want to play a generic college football game without their favorite players. We'll have to see what fan reception is like whenever the game launches.
A timeline or launch window for the new game was not given.