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Despite the Unknowns, College Football's Video Game Return Is a Win for All

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterFebruary 9, 2021

Texas mascot Bevo runs on the field before an NCAA college football game between Texas and LSU, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Football is being played in the Power Five conferences, but many of the longstanding traditions that go along with the games are on hold during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

We don't know exactly when or who or how, though the morsels of information we have collected are enough to make grown gamers and college football fanatics weep tears of joy.

Yes, EA Sports is resurrecting its college football franchise. Yes, the popular video game, which has built a following that feels almost cult-like since it was last produced in 2013, is being primed for next-generation gaming consoles.

What's to come is a mystery. But before we get to that, let us celebrate this glorious revival.

For those who have waited for this moment, wait no longer. No matter the system you play on, the team you play as or the game mode you find comfort in, a return is near. That alone is enough to soothe our fractured, pixelated souls.

To understand the popularity of this announcement, look no further than the reaction it received. The announcement by EA Sports College on Feb. 2 has been retweeted or liked more than 110,000 times and has more than 8,000 replies.

The message didn't include a screenshot or a video. Just a sentence that millions have been waiting to read for seven years.

That dispatch also provided a bit of intel. The NCAA Football franchise is no more. This new game will be delivered under the EA Sports College Football umbrella.

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There's a good reason for this. The change leads to a much larger discussion of which teams, conferences, entities and, of course, players may or may not be included when the game finally launches.

According to a news release, EA Sports partnered with collegiate trademark licensing company CLC to get the ball rolling on partnerships with programs. Beyond the logos, this is the secret sauce of any college football production: traditions, stadiums, playbooks, uniforms and other game-day elements are vital to the presentation.

Michael Woods/Associated Press

More than 100 programs are on board. Given the way this announcement was received, it seems likely more will join. Imagine the reaction from a fanbase if its school decided not to be included but its rival did? By launch, anything short of universal buy-in would be a surprise.

EA Sports will proceed without rosters. This makes sense because the timing of the first release remains a mystery and the topic of players' names, images and likenesses is about to enter a fascinating new chapter.

While rules prevent players from being included and compensated for their inclusion in the game, that could change in the coming years. Whether it will be a move by the NCAA or Congress is unknown, though group licensing—the portal to bringing this final significant piece to life—will be challenged. And the return of this game will undoubtedly be at the center of the discussions.

Nothing is a foregone conclusion, though here is the reality: With so much momentum growing toward compensating players, it's simply a matter of time—though like many things in college football, it might take a while.

Which brings us to the timing of the release. A follow-up tweet by EA Sports College provided a glimpse of when it might come. With the celebration of the announcement still in full swing, this was a reminder that the return is still out in the distance:

Game development is normally a multiyear process—even for a company as large as EA Sports. Rebuilding the college football franchise involves much more than licenses. It will likely require a new game engine (unless EA ports over the engine used on Madden, which seems unlikely) along with modifications to bring the title back to life.

In terms of timing, "as development progresses in the next couple of years" is cryptic. We know it won't be released this summer, which makes 2022 the earliest it could be launched.

The game was typically released in July, and that likely won't change. It's well before the season begins and a month before the August launch of Madden. And EA Sports will ensure the two games don't collide. (Translation: It would prefer if you buy both.)

Summer 2023 feels more likely than summer 2022 given all the unknowns. Whether player names, images and likenesses are included out of the gate won't necessarily impact this, though those discussions could impact when and how the game launches.

So why announce so early? One source familiar with the news noted the number of licensed teams certainly affected that decision. With so many programs on board, it seemed like a formality that the news would leak.

Even though the game has a long way to go before it is released, EA Sports was able to package the message. Given the overwhelming response, that strategy appeared to work.

And so, we're left to wonder when the game will be released, who will be included and how this resurrection will look. We have more questions than answers. For the foreseeable future, this is likely to be the case.

The biggest question, however, has already been answered. We know the game is coming.

For those who love college football and enjoyed the franchise—and also the many who still play old versions on outdated systems—this news is powerful.

When I started at Bleacher Report, part of my in-season writing included a weekly simulation of coming games. It was a lighthearted ritual, though it was always something I deeply enjoyed.

Others found their own routines with the franchise over the years. To many, it is more than simply another game for the collection.

For college football, this is an enormous win. Not only will the game reach a young audience and expand fanbases, there is a possibility that it will grow into something much more.

Since the franchise was put to rest, esports has exploded. Video games are now content machines. The rise of college football on next-generation systems will provide a wealth of opportunities for people to compete in and consume their favorite game like never before.

It'll take time. The wait isn't over just yet. In fact, it might be longer than one might expect, which is not something any fan of the franchise wants to read.

But the return is coming. That news alone is enough for most to toss aside the angst for more information—at least for now. For as long as the wait has been for a comeback, there's no doubt it will be worth it.