The return of college football video games is upon us. Ever since EA Sports’ college football franchise went on a pause following NCAA Football 14, fans have been eagerly anticipating a new one. The problem has been the rules from the NCAA not allowing players to make money off their name, image, and likeness. Without a way to legally pay the players, EA was forced to pause the series until the day those rules changed, or until they found a way around the NCAA’s archaic rules.
Back in February, EA felt pretty confident they had found a way to bring the franchise back. They announced the game would return, with follow-up reports indicating it was likely going to be around 2023. A two-year development cycle is pretty standard for most games and would be enough time for them to start a new game from relative scratch. However, they still had one big problem: NIL laws. Obviously, they could make a game with a bunch of generic players that just feature our favorite schools, but that would be missing the details we all love from these games. We want to run the air raid at Texas Tech, the triple option at Army, and take the next Heisman contender QB to a national championship at Alabama or Clemson. It won’t feel the same without the actual players, even if they are just labeled by number and not name.
Lucky for EA Sports, NIL laws are no more. In a recent anti-trust suit, the Supreme Court stated that the NCAA wasn’t above the law and paved the way open for players to finally make money off their name, image, and likeness. If developers want to add real players to their game, this is the perfect opportunity to do so, and reports indicate that they’re already looking into how they can do that for their upcoming game.
Spurred by a major reversal by the NCAA, video game giant Electronic Arts says it is in the “early stages” of exploring the “possibility of including players in EA Sports College Football,” a company rep tells Axios.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. A lot of fans are going to immediately assume that this is a done deal, but unfortunately, it isn’t quite that easy. EA Sports developers can only add the name, image, and likeness of players that choose to be in their game. For their pro sports games, EA will just strike a deal with the players union, and all of its members will be in the game. College athletes do not have a union that EA can go to. That means they’ll need to go speak to every single player that wants to be in their game so they can sign a document allowing EA to use their NIL, and that’s only one part of the process.
This leads to another problem: How do they capture all of these athletes? When rookies enter the NFL, EA can show up to the Combine, Draft, or other events and digitally capture them so they can put them in the game as accurately as possible. There aren’t many countrywide gatherings of college athletes that EA can go get the players in bulk. They can always go around to the different spring games or summer workouts, but this is a significant amount of traveling and effort, especially if all 130 FBS schools are represented.
There’s no question that EA Sports wants to put every single athlete on all 130 FBS rosters in their game. However, considering the amount of effort that is going to take, it isn’t going to be easy. It would be one thing if they were still making these games, but they’re essentially starting from the very beginning — the last college football game came out on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, we’re now at 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.