NCAA Football was a hugely popular franchise sold mostly in the US covering College Football in the same way Madden covers the NFL.
It had a legion of loyal fans, who loved the fact it was more editable that the equivalent Madden game which meant you had a more immersive experience in managing your team and players.
Unfortunately, the series ended in 2013 due to the NCAA (the governing body for student-athletes) preventing athletes profiting from their likeness through licensing deals.
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This is such a complex issue because there are so many parties involved. The NCAA, EA Sports, the colleges, the players and the conferences they play in all get a say in licensing agreements and need to come to the table to agree.
To this day, people still make content each year for games that don’t exist with the ambition to resurrect the franchise. If a ‘made-up’ trailer can get nearly 5k likes on Twitter, you have to feel that all parties will realize they are missing out on opportunities.
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What has changed?
The biggest change in the last seven years since the series stopped is that in October the NCAA voted unanimously to begin the process of updating the bylaws and policies that oversee the ability of college athletes to “benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” The NCAA’s three divisions are to put the new rules into place by January 2021.
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This was prompted by California enacting a new law that gives college athletes the ability to profit off their name, image, and likeness. Other states have followed since then, with these proposals their way through the legal system.
This means that college athletes will be able to hire agents, sell content and merchandise, accept advertising deals and most importantly — appear in video games.
Why is Madden 21 important?
In Madden 20, we saw the first proper tie-up from College to the NFL with the Face of the Franchise game mode. Whilst restricted to the QB position, this allowed you to pick a College team and play the end of the College Playoffs along with participating in the NFL combine.
Madden players have been calling for more immersion when it comes to Franchise mode, and the links to the College game are a huge part of this.
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Many fans got excited to see the likes of LSU and Clemson playable in a Madden game and that is also important. Historically, NCAA Football and Madden were different games.
But if you were looking to get something going quickly, it is realistic to keep exactly the same game engine as Madden, but overlay College teams, kits, and players.
The first signal of NCAA Football coming back might be as a Madden game mode. This wouldn’t be a bad thing for growing the visibility of the College level.
The NFL has continued its huge growth in the time NCAA Football has been away, and there is a large UK audience who don’t know much about the College game but are avid NFL fans. This is the perfect opportunity to promote a cross-sell, before having a full game ready.
When can we expect something?
There will be a game released in 2020 called Gridiron Champions. It doesn’t have any licenses and so the teams, kits, and players will be unrecognizable. We fully expect it to be very customizable so that you can try to replicate reality, but history teaches us that a lack of licensing holds back titles – see Pro Evolution Soccer and NFL 2k franchises.
Let’s not forget that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X next-gen consoles are due out at the end of this year too. It would be unrealistic to expect anything to be rushed out prior to this.
Due to the time it takes for development as well as the above legal processes to take their due course, we are realistically looking at an NCAA Football 23 title being the first one back, in Summer 2022.
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With that in mind, we expect EA to be a bit more tactical. We would expect to see them build a little more on the College team element shown in FOTF this year. Potentially including a lot more teams or positions into the story.
Once the laws are fully past, it would make complete sense to have it as a full game mode in Madden with the teams and players layered onto the Madden engine.