The road has been long, the night dark, but the daylight is soon approaching. A college football video game is returning.
A release from EA Sports and a subsequent report from ESPN’s Michael Rothstein lit up the internet Tuesday morning with news that EA Sports plans to resurrect the NCAA Football video game series that has laid dormant since 2014.
“Development of EA SPORTS College Football is just underway, with launch timing still to come as the project progresses in the years ahead,” a release from the company stated.
So no timetable for when the game will actually release to the public, and Rothstein noted it won’t be in 2021, but the plan is at least in place to bring the game back.
The last iteration of the franchise was released in 2013 with Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson on the cover. Name, image, and likeness rights were instrumental in halting the game’s production then. To bring it back now, EA Sports has partnered with collegiate licensing company CLC to, according to ESPN, work around that particular issue.
At the game’s launch, EA Sports will have the rights to “more than 100” college football programs. That includes logos, stadiums, uniforms, gameday traditions, and “more that fans have come to know and love.” The atmosphere will look the same, the rosters won’t.
At least not until things change on the NIL front.
“For now, EA Sports is planning to move forward without rosters that include the names, images or likenesses of real college players,” Rothstein wrote. “Current NCAA rules prohibit athletes from selling their NIL rights while in college.”
Though legislation to change that rule was scheduled to be voted on in January, it has since been tabled. Rothstein’s report notes that EA Sports plans to monitor the NIL discussion, but whether it passes through and the law changes or not will have no impact on the game’s viability.
Still, it’s not an end-all, be-all that the game ships to retailers or homes with fully authentic team rosters preloaded. For years, supporters of the previous franchise have kept updated rosters each year for the NCAA 14 game that were downloadable from the roster share function built in.
As long as that function remains intact, players can create their own authentic rosters, or download them from someone else regardless of whether the NCAA has passed NIL legislation or not.
As far as features go, the announcement of the game’s return comes just months after the launch of next generation gaming consoles from both Microsoft and Sony, so anything should be on the table. Upgraded specs on the PS5 and Xbox Series X have allowed game developers to take realism to new heights.
In EA-owned properties like Madden and FIFA, that has meant greatly improved texturing, lighting, and atmospheres beyond the immediate playing surface. Cutscenes in FIFA featured players getting off team busses and entering the stadium.
With a year or two to work with the new tech in next-gen consoles, EA can do things with its college football game it couldn’t do with Madden 21 or FIFA 21, for example. Those games were repackaging of iterations from previous generations. If there’s hope for EA, it’s that we haven’t seen a full-fledged next-gen sports game from them yet.
Imagine a fully-authentic tunnel walk ahead of a Nebraska football game, complete with a lights show, fireworks, and music. With EA Sports’ announced licensing agreement, that could be a possibility.
Naturally, after the shock and awe of the release passed, many fans of the franchise started listing out new features, modes, or additions that would need to be/should be/prefered to be included in a game. After all, it’s been more than seven years since the last game’s release and college football changes regularly
NCAA 14 featured the BCS setup for deciding the national championship. A new game would presumably have to feature the College Football Playoff. To that end, give us the ability to expand the playoff if we want, and add in a “Create-A-Bowl” option while you’re at it.
The previous games also featured a partnership with ESPN to use gameday graphics and ESPN logos throughout broadcasts, as well as ESPN personalities to provide commentary in-game.
Would the new game feature the same kind of partnership? If so, EA could create a CFP ranking reveal “show” to be watchable during a week in a dynasty mode.
It could also go a step further with its commentary teams. In recent years, sports games have adopted a number of voices to provide commentary during games. NBA 2K does this the best, but college football’s vast catalogue of iconic voices provides loads of potential.
An EA Sports-produced college basketball game released more than a decade ago allowed players to choose between an ESPN or a CBS broadcast team. Why not include the same ability in the new football game? An ESPN crew featuring Todd Blackledge for day games, and then the primetime crew of Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler for the big night games. A CBS crew of Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson. And there’s a FOX option of Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt.
The transfer portal would obviously have to be included in any new college football game. And it would need to be realistic. Don’t make me wait until I’m seven years into my dynasty mode—and five national titles deep—before I receive my first transfer request from a 64-overall-rated player.
The recruiting tool in the game’s dynasty mode would also need to be completely revamped. Add in the early signing period, tweak the likelihood a player de-commits or flips on signing day.
Add bag men to the mix. Give gamers the option to “cheat” in recruiting, with baked-in risks of getting “caught” by the NCAA (or whatever the governing body is since the NCAA appears as though it’ll be scrubbed from the game). Add in penalties for recruiting violations like reduced scholarship numbers or postseason bans.
Give us the option to fully control the hiring and firing of assistant coaches. I want to choose who my offensive coordinator is. If another school tries to hire him away, I have the ability to sell him on staying, or the ability to hire the guy who will replace him.
And those assistant coaches have various skills or attributes assigned to them that impact recruiting.
Give us the ability to play spring games.
A number of people on social media were calling for the ability to upgrade facilities, but that feels like unnecessary rendering for the sake of rendering. Would be cool, though, especially if you were to begin a dynasty mode with Coastal Carolina, build it up to a powerhouse, and then upgrade the stadium capacity to coincide with your newfound success.
Another option: since there’s been such a large gap between the last game’s release, introduce classic teams into the game similar to what NBA 2k does with old, iconic teams.
Playbooks would obviously get a facelift, but the ability to edit playbooks was already somewhat ahead of its time in the NCAA 14 game. Just refresh the concepts.
The possibilities are endless here, and the fact that consoles have jumped two generations since the last version of an EA-produced college football game came out should mean that no realism-based feature is too far-fetched.
One more thing: BRING BACK MASCOT MODE.
And since no internet story in 2021 would be complete without at least one tweet imbedded into the story, here are Nebraska football players reacting to the best news of the year:
You know what to do 😏 https://t.co/2fbR50PyDz
— Thomas Fidone II ²⁴ (@ThomasFidone) February 2, 2021
Say u swear!!!!!!!! https://t.co/acra0bjIh5
— Samori Touré (@samori_toure) February 2, 2021
— Adrian Martinez (@MartinezTheQB) February 2, 2021
Hell yeah https://t.co/FOxyyWgzC0
— Nouredin Nouili (@Nouri_73) February 2, 2021
— 𝕄𝕚𝕜𝕒𝕚 𝔾𝕓𝕒𝕪𝕠𝕣 ④ (@MGbayor) February 2, 2021
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.