EA Sports announced its first college football game since 2014. The video game publisher broke the news of the long-dormant series' return in a tweet.
The latest iteration will be called EA Sports College Football. It comes with the weight of years of fan anticipation, something the EA brass seem well aware of.
EA Sports vice president and general manager Daryl Holt told ESPN, “As we look for the momentum that we’re building on in sports, it all starts with the passion of our fans and the opportunities of what they are interested in. I don’t think a visit where I go outside wearing a piece of EA Sports branded apparel, that someone doesn’t go, ‘Hey, when is college football coming back?’”
The original series was shuttered following debates (and lawsuits) over college football players being able to profit on their names and likenesses. The games were wildly successful, but NCAA rules meant to protect the athletes' amateur status meant the players themselves could not receive any proceeds. EA Sports was successfully sued by college basketball player Ed O'Bannon over the practice and the developer shuttered the series after a ruling granted O'Bannon a $40 million settlement. The new EA Sports College Football will work around those rules by dropping the NCAA from its name, partnering directly with schools and avoiding creating player likenesses.
"We’ve just gotten to a point now where we think it’s the right time to bring [the college football game] back,” EA Sports executive vice president Cam Weber told the Washington Post. “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.”
The Post adds that EA's game will randomly generate attributes, numbers, and names for the in-game players, while giving gamers the option to customize and build their favorite teams.
The game is still in the very early stages of development, according to EA. Fans should not expect a release any time this year, or possibly even in 2022. The situation is further complicated by ongoing cases against the NCAA. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case challenging the NCAA's right to bar players from receiving compensation under antitrust law. The case was brought via former West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston. A district court in California ruled in favor of Alston and a circuit court upheld the ruling on appeal by the NCAA. SCOTUS agreed to hear the case last December.
Should Alston prevail, the door would be open for players to profit off their likenesses and new deals would likely be struck with EA. The developer says it's preparing for that outcome, building the game in such a way that players could be incorporated at a later date.
"We’re not relying on it,” EA's Weber told the Post. “But the game will be designed in a way so that in the future, if there was a way to integrate them, we would do so.”
As of right now, the developer's deal with the Collegiate Licensing Company gives it access to team trademarks, mascots, fight songs, and stadiums for over 100 FBS teams. Whether or not those teams will feature anyone we might recognize is still up in the air.