How EA Sports rebooted its college football franchise without NCAA licensing

Ben Askren (left); Jake Paul (right)

Members of the Crimson Tide sit down around a game Madden in 2019, in the absence of an EA Sports college football release to play.Photo: APThe near eight-year cries for college football’s return to our video game consoles were answered earlier this week. EA Sports announced, initially in very few words, that college football was returning to the brand for a game to be made in the near future. Notably, EA Sports avoided placing the four letters ‘NCAA’ anywhere in its announcement or subsequent press release.In ESPN’s report, Michael Rothstein and Dan Murphy noted that the NCAA rules don’t need any changes for EA Sports to proceed with an official title.“Current NCAA rules prohibit EA Sports from paying players to use their names, images, and likenesses in the game,” they write. “If those rules are still in effect when the game is released, EA Sports plans to include real details such as team names, mascots, and uniforms but not anything that would resemble the real players on those rosters. EA Sports announced it would stop making its college football game in 2013 shortly before the company agreed to pay part of a reported $40 million to former college players to settle a lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. The lawsuit argued that it was illegal for EA Sports to sell a game with characters that looked strikingly similar to real athletes without paying those athletes.”Forbes sports and gaming journalist Brian Mazique told Deadspin that the absence of “NCAA” in the game’s title will not affect the product’s release, because they’ve already signed a deal with the Collegiate Licensing Company instead.“EA secured the CLC license, which gives them access to over 200 schools’ logos, uniforms, signature celebrations, and pageantry,” Mazique told Deadspin. “In fact, the absence of the [NCAA] license could create even more freedom for developers to allow fans to craft their own custom postseason structure. 16-team or maybe even 32-team playoff formats. Perhaps even a return to a BCS-style system, though it would be named something different.” G/O Media may get a commissionThe creativity is at least partly what made the NCAA Football franchise so popular to begin with. It also explains the euphoria surrounding its pending return, says NBA 2K League correspondent and HQ Trivia host Jeff Eisenband.“Before online play and esports really took off, NCAA Football had one of the most robust dynasty modes in sports video games,” Eisenband told Deadspin. “Scouting, recruiting, conference realignment, schedule-making, these are things you couldn’t do in video games based around professional sports. You could turn Bowling Green into the next Alabama if you wanted.”Even with a quick YouTube or Twitch search, you’ll immediately spot numerous recent videos of people having dusted off their seventh-generation consoles (or gaming personal computer/PC) to play games or fan-favorite modes like Road To Glory or Dynasty. The fact that many of us were trapped (and perhaps still are) at home during a worldwide pandemic only added to the nostalgia, along with the fact that this announcement would’ve been even more welcome 10 months ago. Because EA Sports’ previous college football series went away after releasing NCAA Football 14 in the summer of 2013, potentially newer college sports titles missed a bulk of online play, as well as a growth in esports, which they could eventually capitalize on upon their release. Colleges have even begun building esports programs over the last few years, making the presence of a college sports video game timely. “I think online play could especially be interesting here from the collegiate level,” Eisenband added. “Could you have college esports athletes representing their schools and actually playing as the teams, featuring logos, jerseys, etc.? There are going to be some legal parameters, but there is a way to do this that benefits everyone: Student-athletes, student-gamers, the academic institutions, athletic departments, EA Sports, etc. It’s important to note this game is coming out as EA Sports College Football, not NCAA Football. That suggests the legal conversations will include a direct conversation with the players, as opposed to solely the NCAA.”There wasn’t a mention of any other pending college titles, including a possible revival of the NCAA Basketball/March Madness series, which ended in 2009 following NCAA Basketball ‘10. But Mazique adds that the also beloved (and arguably superior) College Hoops 2K series, which hasn’t produced a game since College Hoops 2K8 in 2007, is also worth monitoring. “I think the return of College Hoops 2K is a definite possibility, with 2K using EA’s approach and springboarding off the massive popularity of its NBA 2K series,” he said. “It would be the revival of another beloved college series that died out back in 2007. I’m not sure there is another collegiate sport that would carry enough of an audience to substantiate the hefty licensing fee that goes with securing the schools, though. I think College Hoops 2K is the one most would be hoping to see return.” .

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