How EA Is Bringing Back College Football and Sidestepping the NCAA's Biggest Problems

On September 30, 2013, more than 250 developers were called into a conference room at EA’s Tiburon studio. Only a few days before, EA had announced that it was canceling NCAA Football, the venerable series of college football games that had been around in one form or another since the days of the Sega Genesis. While many members of the NCAA Football team would shift over to Madden NFL, many others would lose their jobs.

It was the culmination of a saga that extended at least as far back as 2009, when a former UCLA basketball player named Ed O’Bannon sued the NCAA, Electronic Arts, and Collegiate Licensing Company [CLC] for using thinly-veiled versions of real-life players in their games. The tipping point came when the NCAA ended its partnership with EA and several major programs pulled their licenses. A few months later, EA pulled the plug on NCAA Football.

Sports games have moved on in the years since, leaning more and more heavily on microtransaction-driven Ultimate Team modes. In such an environment it was difficult to imagine NCAA Football ever making a comeback, not the least because it would open up the issue of player likenesses all over again. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what’s happening. Earlier this week, EA confirmed that the series would be returning as EA Sports College Football, losing the NCAA Football license but retaining what is expected to be a hundred or more Division 1 licenses.  

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