My backstory to EA's CFB relaunch

In the mid-1980s, I sat down with Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins and his programmers to create the underlying rating system for Madden Football.


That rating system is essentially the same as the one that drives EA’s College Football 25, the latest in the popular video game series that relaunches in July, after a decade off the grid.


Electronic Arts paid dearly for NIL rights embedded in this game. More power to the players, I say … with a tinge of jealousy. We’ll get back to that.


The year was 1984 as we peered into the future of sports video games. Despite the ominous-sounding year, there was nothing Orwellian about it. Technically speaking, our work on the Madden game in the mid-'80s was cutting edge when the advent of the Mac and then the curiously similar Microsoft Windows introduced the graphical user interface (GUI) and the mouse, bringing computer technology out of the Dark Ages.


Still, we were trying to replicate real football interaction with a maximum of only 12 ratings per player—now called data points—and that was for quarterbacks. Offensive linemen had only six.


As always, things got complicated. It now takes more than 300 ratings to create a single Madden player.


NIL kept College Football on the shelf


Against that background, the real news is that Electronic Arts is re-launching its NCAA version of the football game in July.The uber-popular game was sidelined due to lawsuits from college players who demanded pay for using their name, image, and likeness, now known as the almighty NIL.


Yes, the same NIL that has dominated college athletics since 2021, most notably college football, as it fostered conglomerates and team-specific groups that facilitated—if not encouraged—the use of the transfer portal for athletes to improve their positions on depth charts … and their bank accounts.


Thanks to a settlement, schools will join players to cash in on EA Sports College Football 25 when the game returns this summer for the first time since 2013 — though the payouts might not be as much as one would think.


The details were so touchy that the media resorted to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain information. Multiple media outlets obtained from school records that stipulate the minimum royalties based on on-field success tiers.


Documents from March 2024 show that revenue distribution (based on the minimum guaranteed royalties) ranges from nearly $100,000 for a Tier 1 school to less than $10,000 for a Tier 4 school.

  • Tier 1: $99,875.16
  • Tier 2: $59,925.09
  • Tier 3: $39,950.06
  • Tier 4: $9,987.52

In the 1980s, I settled for a few thousand per season to do Madden ratings, essentially the same concept used in the NCAA football player ratings. In a typically brilliant business move, I passed on an offer to receive a small percentage of the sales or a limited number of stock options for pre-initial public offering (IPO).


At the time, the only mildly successful video sports game was EA’s One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird, which launched in 1983 and sold 400,000 by 1988. So, it seemed that cash was king.


We had no idea that the Madden franchise would generate $4 billion in sales by 2013. I stopped tracking it then, but I am sure that one percent of $4 billion is more than I banked from EA.


Madden himself also rejected an “unlimited” number of options for EA stock in its IPO, which he said was “the dumbest thing I ever did in my life.” But his NIL was a hell of a lot better than mine, so he was able to negotiate his fair share.


AP poll to determine tiers


Back to EA College Football 2025

According to the documents, tiers are determined by each team’s finish in the final AP poll over each of the last 10 seasons (2014–2023). When a team finished the year in the AP's Top 25, it received one point:

  • Tier 1: 6–10 points
  • Tier 2: 2–5 points
  • Tier 3: 1 point
  • Tier 4: 0 points

So, where did your school end up in this tier system?


Per Cllct, here is a breakdown of all 134 FBS schools, using their last 10 finishes in the AP poll as our criteria:



An initial proposal sent to each school on May 31, 2023, detailed that the AP Top 25 would be the “primary football tiering variable." (The documents, however, did not indicate whether it would be the sole barometer.) The document also stated that the AP poll was used to determine royalties in the previous editions of the EA NCAA Football franchise from 1997 to 2013.


The current standard of using the AP Top 25 is not set in stone for future years. The May 2023 document stated it is “constantly working with EA SPORTS to evaluate other options to determine the tiering structure for future years.”


The March 2024 documents do not mention any other performance factors — there is no indication, for example, that a College Football Playoff (CFP) appearance would result in any bonus royalties.


Only 13 of the 134 schools (9.7 percent) reached Tier 1 status, and among those 13, just nine have ever reached the CFP (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, LSU, Michigan, and Oregon).



Washington and Texas stand out as two Tier 2 schools that were near the top of college football’s mountain just last season. Washington lost in the CFP championship after defeating Texas in the national semifinals. Both had five AP appearances in the last decade and just missed reaching Tier 1 under the AP poll criteria.


The Huskies are also the only team with multiple CFP appearances (two) that did not make Tier 1.


The remaining Tier 2 schools with a CFP appearance are Florida State, Michigan State, and TCU.


Oregon State and Washington State, the sole remaining members of the Pac-12, are both Tier 3.


Michigan running back Donovan Edwards is one of the athletes

featured on the cover of the game. (Credit: EA Sports)


EA Sports College Football 25 will pay each athlete who opts into the game $600 plus a free copy of the game. Compensation to individual athletes was exclusively managed by OneTeam Partners.


When total royalties are considered, all 134 schools combined will receive a minimum payment of over $5.3 million. Per OneTeam Partners, at least 12,400 players opted into the game. At $600 given to each player, EA will pay over $7.4 million, not including what they will have paid to the cover athletes. Thus, minimum royalties paid from EA to players and universities amount to over $12.7 million.


Hello, EA? Can I renegotiate?


— This report includes information from Matt Liberman of Cllct.

By Frank Cooney, NFL Draft Scout

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