There has been a lot written about EA Sports College Football so far, which is why we’re putting together this EA Sports College Football FAQ. NCAA Football 14 came out in 2013, so we’re in year seven of a college football drought. Things like College Football Revamped and the amazing roster editors here at OS keep that game alive to this day — and should be applauded for helping to show EA and game publishers overall there is still an unquenchable thirst for college sports games — but the masses have been hankering for something new for years now.
That being said, there is still a lot of legal murkiness surrounding how to pay college athletes, so I thought we would not get another update until the summer (at the earliest). At that point, a couple more key court cases would be on file, and we would have a better idea how of close we were to getting college video games back. However, EA has jumped out in front of this by saying college football is coming back either way within the next 2-3 years.
With that in mind, we’re going to go through most of the popular questions we’ve seen being thrown out there and try to answer as many of them as possible. Most of this will be educated guesses, but where possible we’ll also fill in the blanks with the facts that we do have.
We’ll also be going through the legal hurdles that remain and some things to watch on that front in the coming months (in a separate article) so you all can feel more educated about what else could impact EA Sports College Football — and potential future college sports game announcements, such as a College Hoops 2K revival.
EA Sports College Football FAQ
When will EA Sports College Football get a release date?
Not this year. Daryl Holt, EA Sports vice president and general manager, was very clear that there is no set date as of yet, but 100 percent ruled out the game coming in 2021. This makes sense as there are a lot of legal elements still up in the air, and it doesn’t sound like EA has staffed up as of yet for game development. In other words, this feels a lot like the Skate announcement from back at EA Play Live 2020. EA has a plan to bring a series back, but it’s very early days otherwise.
What studio is making the game?
To be determined, but I would imagine it would be EA Tiburon (the developer of the Madden series) since that was the setup originally when NCAA Football was being made. Tiburon remains in the same location, still retains some of those same employees who worked on NCAA Football, and working on both football games in the same location just seems logical.
What will the game development look like?
Well, first off, EA needs to staff up. Under the old arrangement, the NCAA Football team was smaller than the Madden team, and I assume that will apply here again. That being said, the two development teams shared a lot of tech and features, and so using Madden as a template in some respects will probably occur again. I will be very surprised if EA Sports College Football is made in anything other than Frostbite as most EA Sports games are either already being made in it or have plans to end up in that engine at some point.
Some will be frustrated to hear that, and I get it because the transition to Frostbite has not always been a smooth one, but it’s important to remember that the NCAA Football franchise you played had the same setup with Madden way back when. No matter how much you want to hype up the old-school “real-time physics,” or the “Infinity Engine,” or the “Force Impact” system, Madden and NCAA were intertwined then as well. It does not mean the two franchises won’t have differences — because they always were different. I’m just saying don’t expect EA Sports College Football to be built from the ground up in some new engine.
What platforms is EA Sports College Football coming out on?
EA was very clear about saying that the series is only planned for PS5 and Xbox Series X as of now. FIFA and Madden are the two biggest EA Sports franchises, and they’re also the only two on PC as of now. Considering we don’t have any next-gen PC sports games yet from EA, I did not expect a PC announcement here. In addition, with so many red flags still existing for this series, I don’t think EA would be crazy about a mod-heavy college football game being flaunted on PC right out of the gates.
I do think there is a chance we see more platforms announced at some point, but I think some of the legal hurdles will have to be cleared first to make that a reality. Plus, if the development team is on the smaller side, being on fewer consoles in the first year is a logical step to take.
Will this be the only college football game?
I see some people holding out hope that 2K or some other studio can still get involved here as well, but it does not seem likely. From EA’s press release on its partnership with the CLC:
“The partnership allows for EA SPORTS to be the exclusive developer of simulation college football video game experiences.”
This basically comes off the same way the Madden exclusivity does, and we know this exclusive agreement is for multiple years. Again, some folks are holding out hope that “simulation” can somehow be skirted, and we don’t have an exact definition of what that term means. However, it’s better not to overthink these things.
There’s enough potential litigation surrounding a college sports game at this point that it hardly seems likely another publisher is going to take on that inherent risk and also potentially EA. On top of that, partnerships are important here. If you want the CLC to be on your side, you don’t really want to try and go around them and make some other unlicensed college football game when you maybe want to create a college basketball game or something else at some point.
Will this be a yearly title?
We’re not sure, but we do know the exclusive agreement does include “multiple installments” of this new franchise. With that in mind, it seems like the plan would be to make this a yearly title as of now.
Why the name change?
Cam Weber, executive vice president and general manager at EA Sports, said to The Washington Post:
“EA Sports also does not hold any NCAA licensing around the game.”
That’s why there’s a name change. We’ll go into more detail on the NCAA when we do the legal FAQ, but basically the NCAA has its own issues it needs to handle, and EA and the CLC don’t really need the NCAA to make a game. Back when NCAA Football was being made, the licensing agreements that mattered mostly involved the CLC and EA. EA planned to keep creating a college football game even after the lawsuits were piling up. The issue was that conferences and college teams felt insecure about potential litigation, and more and more slowly started to peel away. After so many teams and conferences pulled back, EA did not see a path forward for the series anymore.
Obviously, we’ve seen some colleges feel okay about being featured in video games in recent years — showing up in NBA 2K and Madden — so from the outside, this new agreement between EA and the CLC now looks a lot like it originally did back in 2013 when they were planning to push forward without the NCAA licensing.
Does that mean this is a generic college football game?
No. It’s weird to understand if you don’t follow this stuff, but the NCAA itself has very little to do with licensing around any aspect of college football beyond its own name and logos. When NCAA Football was being made, EA Sports licensed most of the elements in the game from the CLC. When the Ed O’Bannon case was going on, EA Sports, the CLC, and NCAA were all co-defendants. EA Sports and the CLC settled, and the NCAA stayed in and ended up losing that case.
In other words, that same arrangement is back, just without the NCAA as the third portion of it.
What colleges are involved so far?
As of now, we know EA is working with the CLC to license over 100 FBS teams, and this will include stadiums, mascots, uniforms, traditions, music, etc. You can head over to the CLC site to decipher which of the 100-plus teams (out of the 130 FBS teams) you might be getting, but I would not think too hard about any of this as of now. I write that because even some of the biggest colleges not covered by the CLC (which includes Notre Dame, USC, Ohio State, Miami) have been in Madden in recent years. If those colleges are giving up their license for Madden already, then it seems somewhat clear those colleges will probably come around here as well. They just want to be able to make their own deal with EA.
On top of that, if we end up with 110-plus FBS colleges here, it seems clear a couple stragglers probably won’t want to be left behind because those schools will just be leaving money on the table.
What about awards, bowls, and so on?
The CLC matters here as well, and that company has licensing for most of the major elements here. The Washington Post already confirmed the College Football Playoff is included in this arrangement with EA. We know every major conference besides the American Athletic Conference and Big Ten are covered by the CLC as well. In fact, I do believe the Big Ten and AAC are also included at this point, but it’s a little confusing to follow because those conferences are mentioned on one portion of the CLC site but not the (outdated) client list from January 2020.
This does not mean we are 100 percent getting all these conferences, but if those conferences want to allow it, the CLC has the rights and can include them. The same goes for almost every bowl game and the Heisman.
The bottleneck here will most likely be resources. If you played Madden the last couple seasons, you would notice the developers did not include the college stadiums for these universities they licensed. I would suspect that was because they did not want to invest the time and resources to create those assets when you were only playing in college in one mode for a very short amount of time. These couple years of development will be very art-intensive, and EA will be hard at work trying to cram as many stadiums, fight songs, mascots, etc. into the game as possible. It’s an expensive undertaking, but it’s an important part of bringing the college game to life.
Lastly, it’s unclear what will be happening with the FCS (this means North Dakota State University and colleges of that ilk). EA did not commit to any FCS elements as of now, but we know the CLC does have licensing for plenty of colleges in this area as well.
What will be different from NCAA Football 14 when it comes to rosters?
A lot as of now, but there’s a lot of time left for this stuff to change. Again, we’ll get to the athletes more in the legal article, but it’s entirely possible we could have a full set of “real” college rosters when EA Sports College Football comes out. We also might just have select real players in the game at that point. We also might have no real players in the game, which is the plan as of now.
Again, from The Washington Post:
“Weber said the game’s rosters will be composed of players with randomly generated names, numbers and attributes, thereby avoiding potential infringement on any current players’ name, image, or likeness rights.”
In other words, don’t expect to be using Tim Tebow in everything but name. EA was sued for a reason, and the company is not going to put itself in that position again. This also means we probably won’t have “Tebow” in the audio files like we did with NCAA Football, and other things like that will apply elsewhere.
So does this mean no Roster Share?
I don’t see how Roster Share is included as of now. We can look at NBA 2K, Madden, and The Show and say those games allow you to create college teams and share them through online services provided by those franchises, but there’s still a layer of difference there. While EA can maybe say it’s not responsible for what we do with the rosters after buying the game, if the college athletes see that they’re being frozen out yet again as many of us easily share “authentic” rosters like we used to in NCAA Football, there’s going to be another potential legal battle. You can even see it in the aftermath of this announcement with Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy criticizing EA and the NCAA for trying to cut athletes out of the deal.
“Cutting athletes out of this reboot so they aren’t responsible for paying them for their likeness is a grave injustice.”
There’s clearly a reason a lot of these smaller football games from indie developers don’t include a roster share feature, and it absolutely has to do with legal liability. Perhaps 2K and EA feel comfortable enough avoiding litigation in their pro titles when it comes to us creating and sharing our college athlete creations, but I don’t think the same would apply here.
Longtime sports business reporter Darren Rovell feels this is the direction EA will take as well to avoid any legal hassle:
Unauthorized modified rosters in new EA game while name, image and likeness is at hand will not happen.
EA is liable if coding is open that allows this to happen whether they make rosters or not. https://t.co/6uwNn00LXL
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 2, 2021
How much customization we can even do to players in the “default” rosters is up in the air.
From The Washington Post: “…and barring users from being able to customize players to their liking was an important stipulation for the schools, said Cory Moss, CLC’s chief executive.”
Some folks seem to think we’re going to be able to edit most everything but just not share the rosters with others. I’m not so sure about that considering how creative folks have shown themselves to be in the past. It’s not out of the realm of possibility we could find a way to still share the rosters we edit even without an online share feature, which would be a problem for EA. After all, once upon a time, some of us bought memory cards with edited rosters on them so we could play with real named college players. I would not expect the customization options for the players to be very flexible or deep as of now.
What features will definitely be coming back?
All EA has said so far is that the focus will first and foremost be on gameplay, which is a very boilerplate thing said just about every time a sports game is announced. However, we have to assume dynasty mode will return, as well as a play now feature and online play in some form. Dynasty mode is going to be really interesting to watch. NCAA and Madden were at a crossroads when NCAA Football ended. NCAA Football was still running off its “old” tech in terms of what was being used to drive dynasty mode, while Madden was in the middle of going to “new” tech. This evolution kicked off the start of the new franchise mode, CFM, and NCAA Football stuck with its old formula because there was not a clean way to transfer over some of the big features without a lot more time and effort.
My best guess is EA will use the Madden franchise mode tech as a starting point here for dynasty mode because it would tie into the same logic of why this college game will also be on the Frostbite engine.
It also seems likely you’ll be able to create your own school again, and I would expect a share feature around this as well. TeamBuilder was a big hit, and bringing that back in some form will especially help if the rosters are not cleared up by then. Lastly, it seems logical that a career mode option to take your player from the College Football game to Madden would be good synergy.
Will Ultimate Team be in this game?
I think it would be naïve on some level to think EA is not interested in adding an Ultimate Team mode back into this series. It was already in NCAA Football 14, so it could come back here. That being said, EA has not been as stringent about including it in every game — for example, it was not included in EA Sports UFC 4. On top of that, profiting off a college game with microtransactions might be bad PR for EA.
Either way, it seems like this crossover potential could be interesting depending on if former pro players could be in the mode in their college uniforms, or if we have EA adding old players into the college game in the default rosters.
Who will the commentators be?
This may depend on licensing. ESPN and EA signed a 15-year agreement back in 2005 — this was another dagger to 2K and its NFL 2K franchise — but we have not heard much news about this partnership in recent times. EA and ESPN do still have a working relationship when it comes to esports and showcasing EA games on ESPN platforms, but there’s not much ESPN integration in EA games these days. In fact, the ESPN license felt underused in most EA Sports games that were not the college titles or NBA Live.
That being said, NCAA Football 14 was full of ESPN integration and personalities. We also know Rece Davis and Kirk Herbstreit have been very vocal about their love for the series in the past. Herbstreit’s comments about Ed O’Bannon have aged even worse with time, but I do think he would be the most likely voice to come back if ESPN integration is still a thing. If EA plans to go it alone, it becomes a little harder to predict the outcome. EA has been trying to go with “smaller” names who can provide more hours of commentary at a cheaper price with some of its recent sports games, so that might be a thing here as well.
Either way, ESPN’s involvement or non-involvement will end up being the biggest tell here.
I think that covers most of the major elements so far. If you have a burning question we did not hit on, feel free to ask it in the comments below or on the forums. If you think we’re way off base with anything here, also feel free to let us know and we’ll update this FAQ accordingly.