College football video games are making a comeback. Since the last installment of EA Sports’ college football franchise, NCAA Football 14, fans have been waiting for a new installment. The issue has been the NCAA’s rule prohibiting players from profiting from their name, image, or likeness. Due to a lack of a legal way to pay the players, EA was obliged to put the series on hold until the NCAA’s archaic rules were amended, or until they found a way around them.
Back in February, EA was convinced that they had found a method to resurrect the franchise. They announced that the game would return, with subsequent sources indicating that it would most likely be in 2023. Most games have a two-year production cycle, which would be enough time for them to start from scratch with a new game. They did, however, have one major issue: NIL laws. They could obviously build a game with a bunch of generic players that only features our favorite colleges, but that would be lacking the subtleties that we all enjoy in these games. At Texas Tech, we want to run the air raid, at Army, we want to run the triple option, and at Alabama or Clemson, we want to take the next Heisman contender QB to a national championship. Even if the players are only identified by number rather than name, it won’t feel the same without them.
NIL laws are no longer in effect, which is fortunate for EA Sports. In a recent anti-trust case, the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA was not above the law, allowing players to profit off their name, image, and likeness for the first time. If developers want to include real players in their game, now is the time to do it, and rumors suggest that they’re already thinking about ways to do so for their future title.
Electronic Arts says it is in the “early phases” of studying the “possibility of incorporating athletes in EA Sports College Football,” a company official tells Axios, in response to the NCAA’s dramatic reversal.
This is when things start to get interesting. Many fans would assume this is a done deal right away, but it isn’t quite that simple. Only the names, images, and likenesses of players who wish to be in their game are available to EA Sports developers. For their professional sports games, EA will simply reach an agreement with the players union, and all of the union’s members will be included in the game. EA is unable to join a college athlete’s union. That implies they’ll have to go talk to each and every person who wants to be in their game and get them to sign a paper enabling EA to utilize their NIL, and that’s just the beginning.
This raises another issue: how will they be able to capture all of these athletes? When rookies enter the NFL, EA can go to the Combine, Draft, or other events and digitally capture them in order to precisely place them in the game. There aren’t many national gatherings of college athletes where EA can obtain a large number of players. They could always attend to various spring games or summer workouts, but it would entail a lot of travel and effort, especially if all 130 FBS schools are represented.
EA Sports has made it clear that they want every single athlete on all 130 FBS rosters in their game. However, given the amount of effort that would be required, it will not be simple. It would be one thing if they were still developing games, but they’re almost starting over – the last college football game was released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and we’re now on the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5.
This isn’t going to be as simple as plug-in some names on some rosters and call it a day. Don’t be surprised if the game comes out in 2023 and only half the rosters have real names, or if it’s only the mega stars whose NIL’s are involved. One day, one of these games will come out and it will have every single name on the roster, but it might just take a game or two for EA Sports to get to that point.