EA Sports College Football 25 is back after 10 years with no NCAA games

After nearly 10 years without an official college football game, Electronic Arts has finally revealed a teaser for the highly-anticipated return of its college football video game franchise. EA Sports College Football 25 will be released this summer, with a full reveal of the game coming in May. But for now, the company’s published a short hype video to reassure fans that, Yeah, it’s really happening.

The nearly two-minute video is largely live-action, but there are a few brief peeks at some of the in-game progress — stadiums, mascots, locker rooms, jerseys, and helmets.

An extreme close-up of a navy blue and yellow football uniform for the University of Michigan in EA College Football 25. Image: EA Sports/Electronic Arts

If you’re not a college football fan or don’t follow sports video games, you might be wondering what the big deal is. There hasn’t been a new edition of the College Football franchise since NCAA Football 14, which had former University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson on the cover. The franchise is so beloved for college football fans that people are still playing the 10-year-old game — and updating it to stay current.

There’s very clearly a market for college football video games, but there’s a reason EA Sports hasn’t made a new game in so long: It legally couldn’t. For years, EA licensed the National Collegiate Athletic Association name from the NCAA, and school and conference likenesses from groups like the Collegiate Licensing Company. Because NCAA rules at the time made it so players could not make money off their own name and likeness, the games had to use “fake” players on the real teams, cutting players (who could not legally receive money from the game at the time) out of the significant profits. But those fake players more often than not were basically identical to the real players, with identical appearances, uniform numbers, and attributes, just with fake names.

Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed a lawsuit in 2009 against both the NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Company, arguing this practice violated antitrust laws; specifically, he pointed to how his likeness was used in NCAA Basketball 09 without permission. A whole bunch of other Division I men’s basketball players and football players joined the lawsuit. Eventually, EA settled with the players and paid out a $40 million fee, which netted around 100,000 players that had appeared in basketball and football games since 2003 “up to $4,000,” according to ESPN. The case continued onto trial, where a judge eventually decided the NCAA rules did violate antitrust laws. The NCAA appealed, and the Supreme Court denied it. The NCAA also paid out $42 million in fees and costs. But the fallout of the litigation was that the NCAA, Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, and Pac-12 pulled licenses from EA, effectively putting an end to the video game series.

In 2019, the NCAA lost another huge lawsuit against athletes over capping the value of scholarships; the judge emphasized just how much money the NCAA makes from its players, calling it “extraordinary revenue” when compared to players’ “modest benefits,” as Sports Illustrated reported. The Supreme Court again denied an NCAA appeal in 2021, affirming the court’s decision.

The NCAA announced its new player name, image, and likeness policy (known as NIL for short) in 2021, allowing players to get paid for sponsorships, endorsements, and other deals around their image and likeness. There are still rules, like requirements around reporting these things to their schools, but it was a major win for college athletes. Both federal and state governments have worked to bring legislation to protect the rights of college athletes.

So far, EA Sports has confirmed that it has a partnership with the Collegiate Licensing Company for school-related stuff, like mascots, uniforms, and stadiums. It said then that player likenesses would not be included — but that it’s “continuing to watch those developments closely,” meaning legislation. In 2023, it announced EA Sports College Football 25 would let players opt into being in the game, using licensing company OneTeam Partners, according to ESPN. And those players will be paid for being in the game. For players that don’t want to be in the game, EA will create a generic avatar. Several schools have announced they’ve opted into the game, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Northwestern University, Texas Christian University, California State University, Fresno, and Tulane University, per ESPN. Thursday’s trailer shows the University of Michigan, University of Georgia, University of Florida, and University of Alabama.