EA Sports is coming back to college football.
After last making a college football video game in 2013, the possibility of the game returning had been in limbo. Now, it isn’t. Daryl Holt, EA Sports vice president and general manager, told ESPN the game maker will be returning to the space with EA Sports College Football.
“As we look for the momentum that we’re building on in sports, it all starts with the passion of our fans and the opportunities of what they are interested in,” Holt said. “I don’t think there’s a visit where I go outside wearing a piece of EA Sports-branded apparel that someone doesn’t go, ‘Hey, when is college football coming back?'”
It will — at some point. Holt said there is not a date on when the game will return or even a date when the return will be announced other than it won’t be coming back for this year.
To make the game happen, EA Sports partnered with collegiate licensing company CLC to make sure it had the FBS schools, traditions, uniforms and playbooks — among other things — ready to go for the game. Over 100 teams will be in the game.
For now, EA Sports is planning to move forward without rosters that include the names, images or likenesses of real college players. Current NCAA rules prohibit athletes from selling their NIL rights while in college.
However, those rules are likely to be changed at some point in the coming year — by the NCAA, state legislatures or Congress. It’s not yet clear whether the evolving rules will allow for the kind of group licensing arrangements that would be needed for EA Sports to negotiate with athletes to use their names in the game.
After EA Sports’ announcement, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut issued a statement saying that he would introduce legislation “to help players finally profit off their talent so they don’t need to face continued mistreatment like this.”
Holt said that EA Sports will monitor the NIL discussion if and when things change but that it’s too early for that to happen. He also said what happens in NIL legislation will not change whether the game happens or when it will end up on shelves.
“We’ll just keep tabs on everything as it develops, and we’ll be ready,” Holt said. “That won’t be a problem for us. But it’s really, that’s not an answer for us right now to decide. We’re as much passengers as anyone else.
“So we make sure we deliver what our college football game players would want in a game. And that starts with just a very immersive experience, and there’s lots of things we can do to bring the true college game play and game day to the virtual world.”
Holt said EA Sports is still in the very beginning of the process of game development, building out the team and deciding what direction it wants the game to go in. Conversations about bringing back the game began over a year ago, Holt said, and the combination of momentum of the company combined with the technology it has seen on next-gen platforms such as the Sony PS5 and Xbox Series X further bolstered its decision to return to the space.
“What we had as plans for growth and expansion of our portfolio, college football has always been at the top of my list, personally, working with the Tiburon Studio where it was made,” Holt said. “So it was an easy conversation internally to say, ‘Here is how we would approach it designwise, and here’s how we can move that forward.’
“That’s been going on for a while and certainly wasn’t a ‘Wait to see what happens here,’ even as continued legislation gets proposed. It’s more around what we think we can do around the game and for our [game] players.”
One change from the prior iterations of the game — for now — will be the name of the game. In previous iterations of the game from 1997 until 2014, the title NCAA Football was used, along with the year. Before that, it was College Football USA for two years and, in the first two years of the game, Bill Walsh College Football.
Holt said the plan for the reboot will be to not have the NCAA name but use simply EA Sports College Football.
“It all starts really with where we see college football as going. There’s a lot of things happening, and there’s a lot of things happening in sports,” Holt said. “EA Sports College Football gives us a name and a brand to kind of work around for some things that might evolve as well as what we’re focusing on really out of the gate, which is really the FBS Division I schools and the road to the College Football Playoff and college football championship.
“So EA Sports College Football we just felt is the right name for the product for not only now but also as we move forward.”
The game, whenever it returns, will be the first college football title since NCAA Football 2014, which had former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson on the cover.
ESPN reporter Dan Murphy contributed to this report.