So here's everything I know right now about the return of EA Sports College Football
Good afternoon, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
Normally, I send this out in the evenings, but with news that EA Sports is bringing a college football video game back, well, I did everything I could to get something out the door as soon as possible. I know this is what the internet really wants to talk about.
A few quick announcements first….
1) Our next Community Interview guest is Justin McMahon, a former linebacker at THE Case Western Reserve University. Justin is happy to talk about life at an academically competitive D-III, the UAA, what NIL means to athletes like him, life as a college athlete, and more. You can comment, email, tweet or Discord DM me questions.
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3) Our latest episode of Going For Two will be published on Wednesday. It will feature an interview with Boise State law professor Sam Ehrlich about the last time the Supreme Court really got involved in college athletics, Oklahoma Board of Regents v NCAA. If you want to understand why that case happened, how it completely changed college football, and what it means not just for Alston, but for antitrust law in general, you’ll love this podcast. Subscribe today so you don’t miss it.
Okay, let’s talk about video games.
So who is gonna be in the game?
This is probably the single biggest question, right?
In an interview with ESPN, an EA Sports representative said that “Over 100 teams will be in the game.”, and that EA worked with collegiate licensing company CLC to make sure EA could use college IP…stuff like logos, stadiums, playbooks, etc.
“Over 100” is an interesting number to use. There are 130 current FBS programs, and if every single one of them was already on board, you’d figure EA would just say that. Previous versions of EA’s college football games also included FCS teams.
Two FCS ADs told me that they are unaware of any conversations their schools have had, or would have in the future, with EA or the CLC about video games. I know many FCS programs would love to be in this game, but if that process has already begun, I’m not aware of it. If anybody would like to leak me information about your school’s potential participation in this video game, well, my email is at the end of the newsletter.
Plenty of official accounts from FBS programs tweeted about the game on Tuesday. An Extra Points reader actually counted them and found over 35 FBS programs at least strongly inferred they will be a part of the game, from power programs like Clemson, Georgia, and Texas to smaller programs like Army, Troy, and Nevada. There are probably others that we missed.
It might be tempting to just pull up the list of current CLC clients and assume that every single one of those schools is automatically in the game right now, but multiple sources told me that isn’t automatically the case. Individual schools would still have the capacity to opt-out of any video game participation, and non-CLC clients could still potentially negotiate with EA to get in the game. Two heavyweight programs that are not part of the CLC, Notre Dame and Ohio State, would be potential examples of schools that could negotiate higher fees for an appearance.
I’ve also been told at least one current CLC member is not immediately in favor of participating in the game. I Imagine negotiations will continue over the next several months, and perhaps minds will change as regulatory uncertainty fades away.
But based on what I’m hearing right now, I’d say the chances that at least one FBS team won’t be included…are not zero.
The CLC also currently has relationships with multiple college conferences and bowl games, so the odds are good that we’ll at least see the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in the video game. It is unclear at the moment if the new video game will have a license to use College Football Playoff branding.
Conspicuously absent from the press release? The NCAA. The new game is EA Sports College Football, not NCAA 2023. Not an accident!
But what about the players?
As of right this second, the game would not use the likeness of any current FBS athlete. Given how closely previous editions of the game mirrored contemporary rosters, and given how that led to a lawsuit, my educated guess is that future versions of the game would be at least a teensy bit more randomized on the roster front. If video game Trevor Lawrence looks and plays just like real life Trevor Lawrence, well, we’re gonna see more folks get sued.
But that could very well change. EA would love to use the likeness of current athletes! That’d make a more realistic and fun video game! But without a group licensing mechanism, EA would have no way to pay the athletes.
Current NCAA and member school administrators have not shown much interest in quickly rectifying issues around group licensing. Back in April, Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said group licensing wouldn’t be possible without a union.
Val Ackerman said the group licensing concept that would allow for the video game is "unworkable in college sports" because there's no player's union to negotiate it.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken)
Apr 29, 2020
But at this point, the NCAA and the schools aren’t entirely in control of this process. Congress, and the courts, are also involved in NIL reform, and if the government passes a national NIL bill that creates a group licensing option, you best believe EA would love the chance to cut a check to athletes and use them for the game.
Sen. Murphy (D-CT), one of the Senators most invested in college athletics reform, said on Tuesday:
“EA Sports’ college football series reboot is just further proof that the NCAA’s priority is keeping their profits coming while keeping any and all revenue away from their athletes. Cutting athletes out of this reboot so they aren’t responsible for paying them for their likeness is a grave injustice, and I’ll be introducing legislation soon to help players finally profit off their talent so they don’t need to face continued mistreatment like this.”
I would imagine any federal NIL bill led by Democratic Senators will include language to allow current athletes to be paid for participation in video games. My guess is that NIL regulatory uncertainty will be cleared up enough before the game is actually published for EA to use current athletes in the game, and current athletes will get some sort of check.
When could we expect the game to come out?
Multiple people familiar with both EA and big-budget video game development told it would be unrealistic to expect EA could simply re-skin a Madden game with college logos, or port over most of NCAA 14, and turn around a game quickly.
The last college football game was two video game systems ago, and both video gaming and college football have changed immensely during that time period. There will be new playbooks to code, legacy code to update, new animations, and an entirely new development team to build out.
The best-case scenario would mean a game is released before the kick of the 2022 college football season, but I’ve been told 2023 may very well be more likely.
So why announce this now?
IF you have good news to share, why not share it, right? Video game fans like to complain about EA, so basking in the glow of positive press and feedback must feel like a refreshing change of pace.
But there are probably other reasons. EA had a quarterly investor call on Tuesday afternoon, and I’m sure the company was happy to talk about the return of a highly popular franchise on that call. I think there’s also something to the idea that by announcing this now, EA can subtly apply pressure on potentially reluctant schools and politicians. If fans are blowing up their AD’s Twitter mentions or Representative’s inbox over how to make sure their team is in the new football game, that makes future conversations just a little bit easier.
Is this game going to have feature X?
No idea. Honestly, I don’t think EA even knows. They haven’t hired all the developers and project managers they need. This game is still very much in the conceptual phase, and any conversation about sharing custom rosters, or online play, or recruiting, or gameplay changes or anything else is one that isn’t going to get answered for months.
I feel pretty confident in predicting there’ll be some sort of Dynasty mode, just like in previous years, and there'll be some kind of Ultimate Team Mode, like FIFA and NHL has, and there will be some sort of companion mobile app. Everything else, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Am I excited?
Friends, I went out and bought an Xbox360 last spring just so I can keep playing this game. Video games are one of my only regular hobbies that I can still safely participate in. Of course I’m excited!
It’s not going to happen for a while. But someday in the near future, I can’t wait to stay up late with the rest of you degenerates, slowly building Hawaii or Wyoming or Old Dominion or something into an absolute powerhouse.
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