The way that the NFL has become the most powerful business and entertainment conglomerate on the planet is not merely because of just the spectacle of playing football for the favorite local teams anymore; it’s become larger-than-life. It’s a social event in the workplace with fantasy football. It’s a place of fellowship on Sundays at the local watering hole or merely on social media. It’s a money-making experience with the rise of legal sports betting. They have constituted a platform where every game matters, no matter the stakes. We have access to all of it together, from NFL Red Zone to the players promoting themselves in every commercial and podcast to the reservation of an entire day on a weekend for the majority of a year; it’s now a year-long sport because fantasy and gambling viewers are so interested in the coverage and getting ahead of the curve that something as simple as the NFL Combine in March with guys running wind sprints in shorts could possibly be interesting if it impacts the next season!

While the NFL’s grip on the calendar has never been more stable, the NCAA and College Football has been in a constant state of metamorphosis for the better part of a decade. There was the transition of the BCS going to a 4-team College Football Playoff in 2014 that has been debated for the past decade on whether or not that was the amount of teams deemed just to determine a proper champion. There was the 2018 introduction of the Transfer Portal, also known as free agency for athletes to seek a better opportunity elsewhere. There was the 2021 9-0 unanimous Supreme Court case that deemed the NCAA’s financial restrictions on college athletes to be unjust, thus allowing them to benefit from name, image, and likeness. Now, we have a 12-team playoff and conference realignment that has crumbled the Pac-12 and ruined all reality as we know it when it comes to geography as colleges are scrambling to make a play for financial opportunities in the power conferences.

It’s become so much more complex than merely college students suiting up to play for your alma mater on Saturdays.

With the new types of turnover, players leaving for the pros after as little as three years, and 134 FBS programs to keep up with, it is undoubtedly more challenging to keep up with than the NFL; there’s also been a reluctance to follow with the dominant powerhouse teams creating a presumed “lack of parity” within the playoff with schools like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Georgia seemingly getting in year after year and thus making it less fun if you’re a fan of the third best school in that conference.

However, returning one of the best sports video games of all time will provide a new-age level spark of fandom that the cult-following needs; this summer, EA Sports is bringing back NCAA Football for the first time since 2014.

The NCAA Football franchise had everything you could possibly want- there were hundreds of colleges and offensive schemes to pick from, hundreds of uniforms combinations, mascot games that insinuated chaos, a Road to Glory game where you could take your high school to championship heights before going on your Heisman campaign, and building a decade-long dynasty at a mid-major program through recruiting 5-stars with fruit baskets. On top of that, it just simply is a faster-paced and more entertaining in-game experience than Madden, with all of the identifiable schemes to choose from; it was undoubtedly the greatest virtual football experience at the time.

However, the NCAA financial restrictions on the college athletes that prevented them from profiting off of their stardom in the game made the game unsustainable and thus went on a hiatus after the 2014 edition with Michigan’s Denard Robinson on the cover before the Supreme Court case, if you were playing with Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota on Oregon, you weren’t actually playing with Mariota, you were playing with “QB #8” because he wasn’t allowed to gain a dime in an association that makes billions. With no college game, we all continued to use our copies of the 2014 game (sometimes it would sell for hundreds of dollars) and aggressively updated the rosters as closely as we could for a decade in a sport that is now entirely different since then.

Now, with NIL, the game is back; every athlete that opts into the game will receive $600, a copy of the game, and the opportunity to play and stream as themselves, and everything is right in the world.

The return is much more than just getting an updated version with better graphics, more

Photo: TMZ Sports via Getty Images

accurate stats and conferences, or more uniforms with the athlete’s names included, though; this is going to be a stepping stone to expanding the audience and phenomenon of the sport in a way that has never been done before at just the right time in the first year of the expansion to the 12-team College Football Playoff where more programs have a chance to contend.

The NFL has staying power with the contracts that are signed, and the faces of the game have staying power rather than the carousel that is college athletics; now, the online connectivity with the faces of college sports may be incentivized to stay longer with NIL, can now promote themselves and their brands, and can even transfer to programs to create a year-long news cycle that creates a similar 12-month media frenzy. The casual fans will suddenly know the names of quarterbacks playing in colleges on the other side of the country with realignment, getting rid of all geographical logic and access to seeing their game and style by playing with them actively with their friends online.

So much has changed within the sport since the last 2014 game. We’ll now get to negotiate NIL deals with recruits (or even be a recruit) with absurd car dealership or barbecue sponsorships. We’ll get to navigate the aggressive transfer portal or even potentially make deals with friends online, negotiating recruits or coaching buy-outs. The absurdity of the “redundant” bowl games will be there with a force now that we have events like the Pop-Tarts Bowl, where an actual mascot is capable of being eaten by the winners of the game. And, of course, the reality is that more fans will be able to interact, connect, and broaden their football fandom by being attached to the playstyles of all different programs and players that now deservedly are getting their money’s worth.

EA Sports College Football is back, and it’s exactly what this crazy, absurd, and ridiculous reality show of a world needed.

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