EA’s college football franchise last made an appearance with NCAA Football 14, and its retained cult status ever since for being stupidly fun to play.
Now, in the wake of various laws and changes that have both been enacted or are on their way with regards to player likeness and compensation, EA Sports announced today that the series is indeed coming back for a new generation.
— EA SPORTS (@EASPORTS) February 2, 2021
However, as they clarified later Tuesday, that will be “in the next couple of years”:
We’re blown away by your passion for #EASPORTSCollegeFootball. We look forward to sharing more information as development progresses in the next couple of years.
— EASPORTSCollege (@EASPORTSCollege) February 2, 2021
ESPN’s Michael Rothstein had more information, including that the game will start out with no actual player likenesses involved:
To make the game happen, EA Sports partnered with collegiate licensing company CLC to make sure they had the FBS schools, traditions, uniforms and playbooks — among other things — ready to go for the game. Over 100 teams will be in the game.
For now, EA Sports is planning to move forward without rosters that include the names, images or likenesses of real college players. Current NCAA rules prohibit athletes from selling their NIL rights while in college.
However, those rules are likely to be changed at some point in the coming year — either by the NCAA, state legislatures or Congress. It’s not yet clear if the evolving rules will allow for the kind of group licensing arrangements that would be needed for EA Sports to negotiate with athletes to use their names in the game.
The franchise will now go by EA Sports College Football, too, dropping the NCAA Football moniker.
This always felt like the best workaround option in terms of getting the game back while not exploiting the players themselves. It should probably have been the model all along; once you’re deep in a dynasty somewhere the players had all been randomly generated, anyway.
There are obviously plenty of ways this could go wrong. In the years since NCAA Football went dark, the Madden franchise has stumbled, becoming more famous for glitches and bugs than anything else. If College Football can’t deliver a fun to play game engine (always the heart of the NCAA Football series), there are going to be a lot of disappointed people who just keep booting up their original copies of NCAA 14.
But this is still good news, and it beats the hell out of no college football games.