The Return of College Football ‘25

May 17, 2024

By Rashan E. Isaac, Ph.D. Candidate- University of New Mexico (Sport Administration)

After dominating the college football video game scene for nearly two decades, EA Sport’s College Football ‘25 is set to return in July after a decade-long absence. The O’Bannon V. NCAA case brought an end to the franchise’s run after a lawsuit filed by Ed O’Bannon over student athlete compensation [1]. The O’Bannon decision in favor of former collegiate athletes set the current framework for collegiate athlete’s name, image, and likeness (“NIL”) rights. EA Sports’ monopoly on the virtual gridiron in the Madden NFL and NCAA Football series has created much anticipation around the return of College Football ’25, the latest title in the series.

History of College Football Video Games

The history of college football video games is riddled with legal hurdles. Bill Walsh College Football, which was released in 1993, allowed college football to exisit on the virtual gridiron. This game contrasted from later editions as it lacked licensing, thus preventing in-game appearances of real-life players, teams, and mascots. Dubbed as “the most authentic and in-depth Genesis college football cart” of its time [2], College Football USA ‘96 represented a major breakthrough in early NIL for the franchise. The inclusion of all Division 1 teams (100+), 400 different plays, and a variety of features brought unprecedented realism to the series.

At this time cross-play on consoles was in its early stages of development. Meanwhile, the esport nature of this title grew with development on early ports of the game. The growth of the original in-game playbook from 68 to 108 total plays over the first two editions continued to set the framework for an esport title. Inclusion of rivalry trophies in NCAA Football 2003 and Dynasty Mode in NCAA Football 2006 allowed players an even more realistic gaming experience, while further pushing the envelope for NIL in college football games. This was pressed further with the inclusion of the TeamBuilder feature in NCAA Football 2009, allowing players to have complete control in customizing their teams including stadium, uniforms, and playbooks. NCAA Football 13, considered the “Heisman” edition of the game, featured college football legend Barry Sanders and recent star Robert Griffin III as dual-cover athletes, setting precedent for schools using the game as a way to spotlight their program and student athletes. The last released version of the game, NCAA Football 14, levered the physics engine of the Madden series to provide the most realistic version of the game yet, incorporating use of the Infinity Engine to create the “best-playing NCAA Football ever” [3].

NIL Compensation for Collegiate Athletes

The controversy surrounding NIL compensation for collegiate athletes can be traced back to the ruling of former University of Southern California Star and NCAA Football 2007 cover athlete Reggie Bush. After investigating allegations of improper benefits received by Bush and his family during the same year, the NCAA ruled that the conduct with multiple sports agents violated NCAA policy, resulting in multiple sanctions for the program:

  • Multi-year bowl ban (two years)
  • Four years of probation
  • Scholarship reduction (30 total)
  • Forfeit of 14 wins over the course of two seasons (2004-05)
  • Vacating of Bush’s Heisman trophy

Following the inception of NIL in 2021, the Heisman trust released a statement that read, “In order that there will be no misunderstanding regarding the eligibility of a candidate, the recipient of the award must be a bona fide student of an accredited college or university including the United States Academies. The recipient must be in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student athlete” [4]. One of the major hurdles crossed that made way for College Football ‘25 to return was the establishment of NIL in college athletics. In June of 2021, the NCAA adopted an interim NIL policy which allowed collegiate athletes to begin profiting off of their name, image, and likeness. With a stated “[c]ommitment to work with Congress and provide clarity” on NIL at the national level, NCAA President Mark Emmart continues to lead college athletics into a landscape full of potential monetary opportunities for student athletes [5].

Player opt-ins for the tile: Process and payment

The sheer scope of College Football ‘25 (with EA committed to accurate 85-player rosters for each team) has set the stage for it to be the largest NIL deal to date. With a soft opt-in deadline of April 30th, players are expected to receive annual payments over the course of their collegiate eligibility and subsequent decision to stay in the game. Since late February, players from each of the teams included in College Football ‘25 (134 total) were presented the opportunity to opt-in the game. The fluidity of NIL and college athletics necessitated the need for external support in handling group licensing for athletes included in the game and avenues to do so, by OneTeam Partners and also through the COMPASS application. Compensation for inclusion in this year’s game will be twofold: $600 and a game. EA has also hinted at opportunities for additional compensation over the life of the game for student athletes through ambassador opportunities.

Precedents set for future of college video games

Prior to release, EA continues to work through challenges presented by NIL with inclusion of service academies in the game (i.e. Air Force, Army, Navy). An official quote from EA states “We’re proud to include three of our nation’s service academies in EA SPORTS College Football ‘25 – West Point, Naval Academy, and Air Force Academy.” This statement highlights EA’s commitment for inclusion in the game. Despite public commitment and efforts to include service-member academy players in the game, the nature of the position that student athletes hold in these universities, that they also are deemed to hold a position of public office, Executive Branch Standards of Ethical Conduct: Subpart A-General Provisions: 5 C.F.R 2635.101 (b)  “Employees shall not hold financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty” [6] applies to the application in the game.

With EA’s College Football ‘25 set to return in July, the outcome of this launch will provide a legal framework for a previous title to return: EA College Basketball. Last appearing in 2009 with NCAA Basketball 10, recent rulings on the amateur status of college athletes have opened the opportunity for a return. Last year, EA Sports announced the return of college football in the midst of new rulings allowing college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness. Expected to be released in July 2024, the reception of the new game will impact the potential turn of a college basketball video game series.

Originally released in 1997, NCAA March Madness gave players the chance to win the March Madness tournament with their favorite college program and players. The popularity of the game resulted in college basketball Legend Dick Vitale being included as a commentator in NCAA March Madness 2004, with eventual features allowing customization of the school colors and fight song to be displayed and played on the main screen. After going through a name change in 2008 NCAA Basketball 09, the series provided just one more title, NCAA Basketball 10, before the series was canceled, likely the result of the NCAA’s name, image and likeness rules. With EA once again securing rights to the names and likenesses of players, the success of this title during the everchanging NIL landscape will provide a framework for future titles.


  1. O’Bannon v. NCAA, no. 14-16601 (9th cir. 2015). Justia Law. (n.d.).,attendance%20to%20their%20student%20athletes
  2. “College Football USA ’96 Earns High Honors”. GamePro. No. 85. IDG. October 1995. p. 90.
  3. NCAA football 14 demo reactions. (n.d.).
  4. 2021/ (last accessed May 1, 2024)
  5. NCAA, NCAA Adopts Interim Name, Image And Likeness Policy,–adopts–interim–name–image–and– likeness–policy.aspx (June 30, 2021) (last accessed May, 1, 2024).
  6. Summary – executive branch standards of ethical conduct. Justice Management Division. (2023, November 13).

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