FCS teams won't be in the next EA Sports game, at least, not for now.
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I have some fun announcements and a fun story to share today. Let’s get right to it.
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We’ll hit the other announcements after the jump.
You’ll be forgiven if you forgot that college football is still happening right now. Over the weekend, McNeese State stormed back to beat FCS newcomer Tarleton State, 40-37, in double overtime. Over the coming weeks, several more FCS programs will compete in a spring season.
But even though those programs are playing in real life, they won’t be in the next EA Sports College Football video game. Or at least, not immediately.
Thanks to an Open Records Request, I can share what the CLC is telling FCS institutions. Here’s the full text of an email, dated Wednesday, February 3rd, from the CLC Communications team. I obtained this email from Murray State University:
Dear Partner Institutions:
We are writing to let you know that today, CLC and EA SPORTS are jointly announcing the return of the college football video game franchise. This will be the first new college title by Electronic Arts (EA) since 2013 (NCAA Football 14),
The new video game, entitled EA Sports College Football, should make a positive impact on the collegiate licensing industry as whole. While it is impossible to measure the “ripple effect” that collegiate video games have on consumers, we are confident that the category sparked incremental interest in college brands in the past and introduced the uniqueness of college traditions to scores of young people.
Though the development of the new game is being announced today, it may be up to a couple of years before it is available for consumers due to the time and detail needed to deliver the authentic college football experiences and high-quality gameplay that fans have long loved in college football games from EA SPORTS.
Due to the investment of time and resources necessary to create a new, unique college football video game franchise with realistic in-game experiences, the initial game will launch with D1 FBS football institutions. As the game evolves, it is our hope that EA SPORTS will be able to include additional institutions across other football divisions, and we are currently in discussions with EA to do so. We will keep you posted if and when new information becomes available.
The idea that FCS institutions will not be included at launch lines up with other conversations I’ve had in the industry. Four different institutions from the FCS powerhouse MVC have told me that they have not had conversations with either EA Sports or the CLC about appearing in any video game projects. I’ve heard the same from institutions in the Ohio Valley, Southland, SWAC, Patriot League, and WAC.
FCS schools have not been included in the EA Sports games since the 2006 edition of the game, way back on the PS2.
This game isn’t going to be out for a long time. Why send this messaging out now?
This next college football video game is not going to simply be a reskin of an older model. Technically speaking, that isn’t even really possible anyway, as the last EA Sports college football video game was two console cycles ago. There’s a ton of development work needed just to get the blood and guts of the technology ready for the current systems. That means new animations, new coding, and loads of new features.
The sport itself has also significantly changed. Numerous FBS institutions, like Old Dominion, Georgia Southern and Liberty, weren’t even FBS the last time a video game came out. RPOs weren’t really a thing. Neither was the transfer portal. Almost every conference looks different. You get the idea.
By messaging to FCS schools now, the CLC and EA saves themselves the trouble of fielding phone calls from athletic directors, partnership providers, and pesky reporters, and allows them to focus on the significant challenge of just getting everything properly updated for the new FBS institutions.
I’m sure plenty of FCS schools would love to be in this video game. Schools don’t actually make that much money from licensing their IP for the game (think five figures, not six), but it gives institutions the ability to market themselves to younger fans. Plus, athletes really want to be in this game.
Here’s an example of an FCS coach using video game iconography in recruiting communications:
Dozens of FBS coaches are tweeting similar graphics. This stuff resonates with younger audiences!
Could things change before the game drops? Of course. I’m just sharing what licensing providers are telling institutions right now.
Could this football game include other divisions?
I mean, anything is possible, right?
There are plenty of schools outside of D-I that work with the CLC, after all. D-II powerhouses like West Florida, Ferris State and Valdosta State are current CLC clients, as well as D-III programs like Case Western Reserve, Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater. So theoretically, the licensing mechanism to easily include them could exist. And of course, EA Sports could license institutions that do not work with the CLC as well. Plenty of major FBS programs, like Ohio State and Notre Dame, are not current CLC clients.
At least one D-II program isn’t shutting that speculation down:
Well hello. 👀👀 twitter.com/RedditCFB/stat…
— Pittsburg State (@pittstate)
Feb 12, 2021
Now, would EA Sports be willing to pay for the student likenesses (assuming they can legally do so before launch) for programs outside of D-1? Would EA be willing to actually travel to these campuses to photograph and properly render their stadiums and visual assets? Would they be willing to create an extended playoff option, or would they just be available for regular season play?
We can only speculate. Programs outside of D-I have never been included in the EA Sports franchise before, although fans often created their own assets for D-II and D-III programs and uploaded them via the TeamBuilder tool.
It’s fun to think about being able to play as Denison University and get that rematch against Ohio State. Possible? Maybe! Likely? I’d bet against it.
What is the CLC telling FBS institutions?
I’ve examined communications from CLC personnel to athletic department personnel at FBS institutions, prior to the official announcement that the EA Sports game would return. Those communications indicate that the CLC told athletic departments that they had a deadline of Friday, January 29 to make a decision about participating. A source familiar with the correspondence told me that even so, January 29 wasn’t a hard deadline and that some schools are still deciding whether they will participate, and on what terms. Some of those conversations, I’m told, are ongoing.
Here’s an example of what the CLC told FBS institutions. This is a message from a CLC VP to a MAC institution:
Earlier, ESPN reported that:
EA Sports is working with the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) -- the licensing partner for many schools -- on securing the use of the stadiums, uniforms, mascots, traditions and names for over 100 teams in the FBS.
In case any fans are worried, as of now, it’s clear that ‘over 100 teams’ number includes many programs outside of the Power Five. The above document came from a MAC school, after all, and a representative from New Mexico State confirmed me to that the school plans on being a part of the game.
We’re a long way from the final product!
If you’d like to talk to me about whether your school is planning on participating in this video game, or any concerns your program has about potentially participating, I’d love to talk to you! My email is [email protected] If you have ideas about future FOIAs I ought to send, I’d love to hear about those too.
If I learn anything else about this process via open records request or additional reporting, I will happily share it in future newsletters.
If you enjoyed this newsletter, I bet you’ll really enjoy our totally free podcast, Going For Two. This week, we’re talking all about Texas…what makes it so unique, why it’s important, and what role the state’s institutions will play in college athletics moving forward. Going For Two publishes every Wednesday, and you can subscribe right here.
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