The hiring of Jim Harbaugh by the Los Angeles Chargers is another showcase of how licensing and off-the-field chaos is still lacking in Madden 24 and its coaching carousel, yet has a window of opportunity with EA Sports College Football on the horizon.
EA returning to college football has been this dream for a decade, and it’s going to be a reality again as soon as this summer, but it’s also an opportunity to remind folks why EA’s college football game and EA’s NFL game had a very symbiotic relationship during the golden years of EA’s football run in the late ’90s into the 2000s.
It’s easy to look back on those years and say everything was perfect (it wasn’t), but importing draft classes from NCAA Football into Madden was easily one of the coolest features around — and looking to the present, it still would be one of the coolest features around. But it should not stop there.
Importing Draft Classes, And More…
Coaches jumping from the pros to college and vice versa is a fact of life. We have Harbaugh going from Michigan to the Chargers, and you also have someone like Bill O’Brien going from the Patriots to Ohio State. In other words, Integration between EA Sports College Football and Madden 25 should have new life that goes beyond just the draft classes.
That said, importing draft classes was far from a perfect science during the golden years of EA’s games. The ratings were sometimes way out of line, and other issues cropped up depending on the year, but the point is that it was still awesome for a variety of reasons. For one thing, you either had a connection to a bunch of fake players that you used or went against for multiple seasons in college football, or they were real college players that you already knew and wanted to now see in the NFL. That second option is obviously why EA was sued into the ground, but that same issue seems to have mostly been worked around now with college athletics slowly grappling with new realities in recent seasons.
Licensing Is A Two-Way Street
But we also have licensing that goes beyond players. I mentioned at the top that a lack of licensing hurts Madden in this case. We don’t get to poach real college coaches right now. It’s not the biggest issue for why whatever you want to call the coaching carousel right now in Madden isn’t that exciting, but it certainly doesn’t help. It’s fair to say that licensing in sports games is still one of the biggest ways to garner attention. As cool as some of the unlicensed games are, folks do generally want to play with real coaches, players, teams, and so on.
If we assume that EA has the most money to throw around for licensing deals — and has some of the longest-term connections — then we should expect more and more licensing, especially if we’re not always seeing those bumps in quality. It’s artificial quality in a sense — and I’m not advocating for not improving the video game itself — but licensing can still be additive in sports games.
And it is a two-way street here where the EA Sports College Football game would benefit from the same thing. Whether it’s your own coach bouncing from the pros to college or real coaches bouncing around, mixing the pools of coaches whether via importing or sharing licensing agreements is something that should be in consideration.
We assume there is going to be some sort of Ultimate Team in the college game. We presume this means lots of old players and so forth will be in their college jerseys in those games. Coaching licensing is not always as straight forward as the player licensing, but we’re already going to be in this universe of college player licensing that is not cut and dry, so EA already has a mess on its hands, and I’m saying let’s get messier.
Turmoil And Chaos Are Fun In Sports Games
That sort of messiness should bleed into these two football games as well. We’ve made the point for years that Madden feels like this isolated silo where nothing really exciting happens in your franchise mode and it’s like you’re playing by yourself when 31 other teams exist. You can make your own fun and create your own stories in online franchises, but in the game itself it’s not really there.
Now, I’m not advocating for video taping other teams and all this other stuff (obviously the NFL and the NCAA aren’t going for that), but we do need some controlled chaos. It would be amazing if Alabama swooped in one year and just stole your head coach or offensive coordinator while you were controlling the Cleveland Browns. We need more of this sort of stuff in our EA football games.
After all, yes, we want the game to be fun to play on the field. However, we also want deep systems and things that make us want to get on the field each week and play. NCAA Football thrived because of recruiting, the coaching carousel, and a whole lot of other factors that involved playing the game off the field. Madden has not been able to tap into that same vibe for many years, and the college game coming back is another way to now look at ways to improve that aspect of things.
Opportunities Exist, But Plenty Of Work Remains
To be clear, I’m not saying I expect any of this in year one. There’s a thread on OS started just yesterday asking how to get Mike Vrabel to be your coordinator in the offseason. This is a little in the weeds (and it’s been a thing for multiple years), and it’s one of those weird loopholes where you have to wait until the “staff signing week” in the offseason to actually sign a former head coach to be a defensive coordinator or offensive coordinator.
However, it’s still not even that straight forward because if you sign a head coach as a coordinator, then it means they have no skill trees anymore because it’s a new role rather than another HC job. To put it another way, making video game is annoying and the more elements you add on to it, the more chances you find new bugs, loopholes, and other ways that ruin the fun in new ways. Still, it doesn’t mean you don’t push forward. NBA 2K’s MyEras mode is the best recent example of this in that not everything is perfect but it’s so cool that you can overlook a lot of bugs if you’re giving people a lot of innovative stuff in the process.
It’s time to start innovating again EA, and an expanded coaching carousel full of chaos and TWO football games would be a way to do that moving forward.