Will There Be Another Licensed NCAA Football Game?

A new licensed NCAA Football game isn't necessarily around the corner; we review the history of the franchise, its downfall, and whether or not we can expect another licensed game in the future. Even after the NCAA released further guidelines on their previous ruling which will allow college athletes to profit off their name and image, the chances are slim. The road to a new licensed NCAA Football game still appears rocky and a substantial product might be further away than we would like.

A quarterback steps back to throw a pass in NCAA Football 14.

When I moved to another state in August, I was kind enough to take my PS3 with me while leaving my brother with our newer Sony console. While I mostly just use the system for Netflix and Hulu, I return time and time again to the greatest aspect of still owning a PS3: NCAA Football 14.

As a sports fan whose favorite thing to watch is college football, I have loved each NCAA Football game that has been released. Every year, I would get a new NCAA Football game at Christmas, excited to play it with my bro and start a new Franchise or Road to Glory. NCAA Football 14 was released on July 9, 2013, and sadly, it is the last available licensed NCAA Football game.

Since the franchise has been discontinued, it has attained almost cult status with gamers hanging on to their older consoles solely to play the game. There’s even a group of volunteers who are dedicated to updating team rosters and uploading them for other players to use each year.

A player runs with the ball in NCAA Football 14.

A player runs with the ball in NCAA Football 14.

As a result, many fans of the franchise, including myself, were hopeful it would return when it was announced that student athletes would be allowed to profit off their names and likenesses—but that doesn’t mean an officially licensed NCAA Football game is in the near future. Last week, the NCAA released further guidelines on how college athletes can profit off their name and image, resulting in even bigger cheers of joy across the college football video game community. However, the road to a new licensed NCAA Football game is more tumultuous than it might seem and a substantial product might be further away than we want.

NCAA Football BACKGROUND

The NCAA Football series ran from 1993 until 2013. The first game to include a year in its title was Bill Walsh College Football ’95 and the series was released on an annual basis since then. Naturally, there were many updates and improvements throughout the lifetime of the franchise. The last edition in the series, NCAA Football 14, improved on its predecessors and was overall a pretty solid game for its time.

It was the first game in the series to use the Infinity engine, which improved the visuals from NCAA Football 13. The game also added Read Option plays, enhanced CPU A.I., and improved commentary.

NCAA Football 14 Logo

NCAA Football 14 Logo

The game added more features in “Dynasty” mode, most notably to help streamline the recruiting process. The popular online “Ultimate Team” mode added PvP 10-game season modes while the only real change to “Road to Glory” mode came in the form of players being able to add their GameFace to their created player. In his review for IGN, Greg Miller gave the game a 7.4 rating and praised the refined gameplay, but ultimately concluded that while it was “a good football game,” it was “far from an impressive package.”

DEATH OF NCAA Football

The death of the beloved franchise ultimately resulted from former college football and basketball athletes bringing a lawsuit against EA Sports and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Even though the franchises used player’s positions and numbers as their names in the game (e.g. “QB #3”), the lawsuit alleged that EA Sports still used identical jersey numbers, biological information, appearances, and biographies, without the players’ permission and without compensating them. The suit additionally stated that the NCAA and its licensing arm approved the use of player likenesses, which was contrary to the organization’s own bylaws which prohibit the commercialization of a student-athlete’s name, picture, or likeness.

While the lawsuit was ongoing, the NCAA announced it would let its contract with EA Sports expire in June 2014, meaning if the developer were to develop further college sports games, it would do so without the name and mark of the NCAA. Since individual universities are in charge of licensing their own trademarks and intellectual property, there was hope that an unlicensed game with schools that were still willing to license their properties could proceed. However, with the SEC, PAC-12, and Big Ten conferences (and the teams therein) all declining to license its trademarks, EA Sports pulled the plug on the franchise altogether.

A player goes airborne in NCAA Football 14.

A player goes airborne in NCAA Football 14.

EA Sports ultimately settled the lawsuit. While they admitted no wrongdoing, it was determined that roughly 24,819 college football and basketball players who appeared in the franchises from 2003 to 2014 were eligible to receive a portion of the $60 million settlement. The awards were issued on a weighted scale with players in older games receiving less money because the newer games had more “specificity in the likenesses of players,” according to Yahoo! Sports.

OTHER COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAMES

With the franchise’s hiatus and fans of football gaming yearning for something different from Madden, there have been developments for unlicensed college games in the past couple of years.

A quarterback looks to throw the ball in Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football 2019.

A quarterback looks to throw the ball in Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football 2019.

On September 27, 2019, a small indie-team, Maximum Games, released Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football 2019 on PS4 and XB1. The unlicensed game consisted of over 100 fictional colleges to choose from. However, the game was widely panned by critics and fans alike.

In his review for Forbes, Brian Mazique commended the game’s customization options—which includes the ability to edit and rename all players and teams as well as play by Canadian, American Pro, and collegiate rules—but that was about it. He noted that while he “appreciated the effort of the small indie team” for trying to “fill a void for sports gamers,” he had to give it a negative review due to its poor player models, choppy animations, horrendous A.I., confusing U.I, and overall “lack of fun.” The 2 out of 10 score he gave it seems to be the consensus, but some fans are still grateful just to have a new college football game.

That being said, iMackulate Vision Gaming LLC and Big Ant Studios is developing Gridiron Champions, which is supposed to release on PC, PS4, and XB1 sometime in 2020. According to its website, the game will allow players to “feel the unique traditions, atmosphere, and pageantry” of college football.

The developers intend to feature over 126 generic colleges and “use generically randomized rosters to avoid any legal consequences dealing with current player resemblances.” The website states developers are hoping to incorporate customization and roster share features so players may customize their experience to their liking.

Gridiron Champions is supposed to be released sometime in 2020.

Gridiron Champions is supposed to be released sometime in 2020.

The game looks like it will feature multiple game modes, including a “Legacy Mode,” (seemingly similar to EA’s beloved Dynasty mode), “Gridiron Mode” (likely equivalent to the Road to Glory mode in NCAA Football games’ past), and a “Playoff Chase Mode,” which gives players the ability to customize their own playoff brackets. (Previous college football games never had this feature as the first College Football Playoff was implemented at the end of the 2014 season.)

With a release date yet to be announced, gamers will have to be patient in their wait for another college football simulation game. However, it must be noted that some of those who contributed to the crowdsourced game are now speculating on Reddit that the game will not be released. Whether or not the game will even be released this year (or at all), one can be hopeful that a game such as this could be released this year.

Renewed Hope for a NCAA Football Game

Many gamers have desired a new college football game for years. Thus, sports fans like myself and even those involved in college football, such as commentator Kirk Herbstreit, were elated by the news last October when the NCAA announced it would allow athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. While the organization remained steadfast in its opposition to paying student-athletes outright (to which I agree), the NCAA’s top governing board voted unanimously to allow college athletes to profit off the use of their name, image, and likeness (to which I also agree) after California became the first state to pass a law allowing college athletes to hire sports agents and sign endorsement deals.

While this set off a debate among sports fans, the immediate reaction from the gaming community was positive and hopeful. Many fans seemed to feel that with these new regulations, EA Sports, or other developers, would be in the clear to begin making college football games with licensed entities yet again.

A RECENT UPDATE

On April 29, 2020, the NCAA Board of Governors supported rule changes to allow student-athletes to draw compensation from third-party endorsements related to and separate from athletics and allow compensation for other student-athlete opportunities, such as social media, starting businesses, and personal appearances, that are within the principles originally outlined last October. However, universities are now allowed to pay student-athletes directly, in any way.

A player gets hit in the air in NCAA Football 14.

A player gets hit in the air in NCAA Football 14.

The board’s recommendations are now moving to the rules-making structure in all three of the NCAA’s Divisions for further consideration as it has asked the divisions to consider appropriate rules changes based on recommendations from its Federal and State Legislation Working Group. Most importantly, it was established that divisions should have adopted new name, image, and likeness rules by January so that they may go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year. With this news, I thought for sure that we may have an officially licensed NCAA Football game sooner rather than later.

NOT SO FAST…

My optimism was short-lived. According to 247Sports, the NCAA’s detailed report noted that the working group was not sanctioning “any changes to NCAA rules in permitting group licenses of student-athlete NIL in group products such as video games.” The article points out how another college football writer, Nicole Auerbach, reported that the Big East Conference Commissioner, Val Ackerman, had stated that group licensing is “unworkable in college sports” because of the lack of a bargaining unit for student athletes.

While former NCAA Football Executive Producer Ben Haumiller said that EA Sports would be open to once again creating the game, it seems unlikely that it will happen. Chris Hummer of 247 Sports wrote that even though EA has individually licensed the brands of select schools for its Madden games, the NCAA has not renewed its licensing agreement with the developer and there has been hardly any movement toward “a new flagship college football game.”

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

For those of us desperately longing for a licensed NCAA Football game, it appears we will have to wait a while for that plausibility. Unless the NCAA changes its attitudes towards collective licensing or another developer aggressively picks up the torch to usher in a new era, it seems that a fresh game is far off.

A quarterback hands the ball off in NCAA Football 14.

A quarterback hands the ball off in NCAA Football 14.

That being said, since there is a need for this type of game in the market, maybe other developers will continue to try and make college sport simulations with generic, randomized, and customizable teams. While plenty of fans will hold onto their current versions of NCAA 14 for a bit longer, I am sure that many are eager to try a next-gen console version of a college football simulation. I sincerely look forward to trying any other college football game that comes out in the future. Maybe, I’ll even find a way to give Doug Flutie’s a try.

I long for the day that college football games can once again be reproduced with actual colleges and players. But until then, I will try my best to be patient and, in the meantime, play my NCAA Football 14… or whatever college football game I can get my hands on.

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