Opinion: The End is Nigh For EA Sports' College Football Franchise
The NCAA is living on borrowed time. The association overseeing college athletics is in the legal wringer for its long-held rule of not letting college athletes receive compensation. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, this turmoil is having an effect on the video game world. The NCAA has severed its licensing deal with EA Sports, which will put out a college football game using a new three-year agreement with the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) for over 150 schools, conferences, and bowl games. Regardless, the end of college football video games may come sooner than we think.
Apart from its agreement with the CLC, the licensing backbone of EA Sports' next college football game will be cobbled together from individual deals with schools, bowls, and conferences. This is already a big problem for the title since the SEC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 conferences have said that they will not participate. Individual teams (including those within those conferences) can still sign with EA, but not only is the franchise starting from a weakened position without being able to use something as strong as the SEC conference, for instance, but EA is going to be paying money hand over fist to get each school, bowl, etc. outside of the CLC that it wants in the game. And you can bet there will be some big-name schools left off.
No matter how zealous football fans get on Saturday, this is a bottom line business – and the NCAA franchise comes well after big dogs like FIFA and Madden. Thus, I believe an accountant somewhere in EA has a piece of paper with a dollar amount on it, and strict instructions to not let the licensing fees go over that amount. If it does, I think that the company will walk away from college football and not look back. And rightfully so.
I don't fault EA for this, and it will be a shame for all the developers at EA Tiburon. It takes so much time and effort to put out games to the level of quality that the series has been known for, and seldom does a company of EA's size throw copious amounts of good money after bad. Today's sports video game market virtually requires official licenses as part of selling the aura, and the vast majority of fans wouldn't want it any other way. The company has already made a similar decision on college basketball, and it closed down the MVP baseball brand after two years of college baseball after it lost the MLB license.
There's something to be said for sticking to your guns, but there's also value in not diluting your product to the point of ridiculousness. Putting out a game with incomplete rivalries, a fractured bowl season, and the inability to replicate the likenesses of existing players doesn't sound like the kind of college football game I want to play.
Video game football started without official teams and likenesses, and in the case of EA Sports' college football, it's heading back that way. We weren't enamored with the idea back then, and we certainly aren't going to put up with it now.