For two decades, kids and adult gamers were treated to college football video games. It became an expectation that each year a new and improved version would come out that would let fans of the sport take over their favorite team and play out the college football season. So what is the problem? Why isn’t there a college football video game?
One of the many things that are wrong with college sports is that players do not get paid. Despite earning their institutions millions of dollars every year, players receive a fraction of that revenue in the form of free education. Now, that is not to minimize the value of a scholarship, as thousands of prospective students would be thrilled to get a full ride to a quality school. However, the education the players are receiving is small in comparison to the money they are earning for the schools.
For years, in addition to not getting paid to fuel the billion-dollar machine of college athletics, college athletes were not allowed to use their likeness to earn income off the field. That means they cannot sign autographs for money, get advertising deals, or make appearances that would pay them.
The First and Last College Football Video Games
The first college football video game came out in 1993 from EA sports, and it was titled Bill Walsh College Football. EA continued making games annually until 2013 when a group of former athletes sued the company asking for payment for their appearances in past NCAA sports games. EA settled the lawsuit for $60 million and has not made a new college football video game ever since.
NCAA Changes Its Stance
In April 2020, the NCAA changed its stance on players using their likeness for money. In a statement, the NCAA said it supports allowing “student-athletes to receive compensation for third-party endorsements both related to and separate from athletics.” The caveat is that a college must not pay students directly.
The board’s recommendations in April are not final, but they do represent the biggest hurdle to getting college football video games back in production. Players would be allowed to receive compensation from social media, for personal appearances, and also for businesses started while at school. The athletes would be allowed to identify themselves by their sport and school, but would not be allowed to use conference and school logos or any other trademarks.
The next steps are for Division I, II, and III to all adopt the new rule. The plan would be for the new rule to take effect for the 2021-2022 academic year.
When Will There Be a New College Football Video Game?
Electronic Arts has given no indication that a new college football video game is on the horizon. However, CEO Andrew Wilson was quoted by the Wall Street Journal saying that the company “would jump for the opportunity” to start making the games again.
The context around the quote was a new California law that requires the NCAA to allow athletes to be paid for their likeness, including endorsement deals, autograph signings, and video game appearances. It is no surprise that after California put this law into effect, the NCAA began to change their overall stance on the subject. Further context is that pressure has been mounting on the NCAA to pay their athletes and the NCAA likely would rather embrace this new law which would allow players to earn money, but would not put the burden on the schools to pay their players.
What this means is that the NCAA is highly likely to make its new stance official by 2021. However, after not making a college football video game for seven years, it remains to be seen how soon Electronic Arts could put together a brand-new game. EA also makes the wildly popular Madden NFL franchise, so they already have a football engine in place.
But EA is not going to put resources into making a new game until it is official that all players can be paid for their likeness. So even if the NCAA passes its new rule by the start of the 2021 season, it is probably unlikely that a new college football video game would be released at that time.
Churning out a new video game every year is only possible due to the blueprint of the previous year’s title. At this point, the 2013 game would likely be incredibly outdated compared to modern video games. Could EA pull this off in time? As a multi-billion company itself, the answer is yes, they could. But is that realistic? Probably not.
The most likely scenario is that the new rule takes effect in 2021, at which point EA will have to negotiate with players on how much they will be paid to appear in the game. This arrangement could be the most complicated hurdle to cross, as there is no players union for college athletes, and players are not allowed to have agents to negotiate deals for them.
With so many potential complications, the best-case scenario is likely a new college football video game in time for the 2022 season.