There hasn't been a legitimate college football video game since EA Sports stopped making the games after the 2013 season. NCAA Football 2014 was the last game in the series (and I didn't even review it!).
The reason for the disappearance of this game series was a class-action lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon against the NCAA regarding compensation for player likenesses in college sports video games. O'Bannon sued in order to get the NCAA to pay players some compensation for the likenesses that were used in such video games. The NCAA refused, since they consider college athletes "amateurs" who should not be paid. Over the past few years, there has been mounting controversy over the lack of compensation for college athletes, especially as sports like college football and basketball surge in popularity and profitability. Currently, schools can earn millions of dollars from their college sport programs (from ticket sales to TV deals to advertising and endorsements), but the athletes who play the games don't see a penny of the money. Instead, they get scholarships.
While I'm personally in favor of paying college athletes, I'm not going into that debate right now. Instead, I want to discuss the settlement that occurred, EA paying out the settlements to players, and what it might mean for the future of college football games.
I'll admit that I'm confused by this whole affair. There was initially a settlement, and EA is currently paying out likeness reimbursements to players. However, the case is still ongoing, as the NCAA has challenged the original ruling. This appeal resulted in an upholding of the NCAA's violation of anti-trust laws, but it also (as I understand) struck down part of the original ruling that required money to be set aside to pay players compensation for their likenesses. I'm not sure if these are two separate cases, or if EA independently agreed to a settlement. If anyone could explain the course of event, I'd greatly appreciate it.
In any case, EA Sports excited players earlier this year by posting the first Facebook post in almost two years on NCAA Football's official Facebook page. The post wasn't much - just a heartbeat monitor. Fans quickly started anticipating that this meant that EA was resurrecting the college football video game franchise.
EA quickly responded that the post was not meant to imply that any future NCAA Football games were in development. Rather, they want us to believe that it was just an expression of their excitement regarding the College Football Championship. When the compensation lawsuit is settled, EA can go back to making these games, and the court itself has said as much. But if EA weren't restarting development of this series, then why would this page suddenly start seeing activity after two years of complete inactivity? I mean, they didn't bother posting anything about previous college football bowl seasons or championships. Are we to believe that this post appearing just a few months before EA began sending out compensation checks is just a coincidence?
It seems unlikely that EA has an NCAA Football 17 game planned for release this year. We're already seeing previews of the upcoming Madden, but not even so much as an announcement for NCAA. There hasn't been an NCAA Football game on the current generation of consoles, so EA would likely need to put more work into the game than simply porting the code over from the last game (on last-gen consoles). Even if the code is re-useable, they'd need whole new art assets, which would take a while to collect.
It's possible that EA kept a team working on keeping the game up-to-date during the hiatus, in the hopes that they'd eventually get to continue making the game in the future. This seems unlikely, however, since it would be very expensive to maintain such a team that was working on a project that might never see the light of day. Having two years to work on a game could be plenty of time for EA to create a worthwhile current-gen successor. The last thing that I want is for a game to be rushed out and turn out like those first couple years of games on the PS3, with their gutted feature sets.
However, the legal case might still be far from over, as the NCAA has petitioned for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case. If the court agrees, then this case could drag on for another couple years still, and that would mean no new college football video games in the foreseeable future.