FOIA request scores EA Sports College Football details

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Details about the highly anticipated next installment of EA Sports College Football emerged from an unusual source on Friday: a FOIA request.

Matt Brown, a journalist and the author of the newsletter “Extra Points,” has been sending FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, requests to dozens of universities to muster information about the 22nd installment of EA Sports’ college football video game franchise, which has been dormant since 2013. On Friday, Brown reported that the game’s development is “in full swing,” and the title is on track to be released next summer, according to emails between the Collegiate Licensing Company and multiple universities.

According to Brown’s findings, EA Sports is going through the laborious process of collecting photos and audio files for every participating Division 1 college football program, including the songs from the bands and signature cheers from the stands, to re-create the game day experience. The company is even asking schools to explain how teams use and distribute the stickers on players’ helmets week to week to re-create the same detail over the course of a season, for example.

EA Sports did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

According to emails Brown collected, the Collegiate Licensing Company has told universities that nearly 120 schools have conceptually approved participation to be in the video game. (There are 131 schools in Division 1 NCAA football.) And the schools that participate are expected to earn anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000, depending on their institution’s historical ranking in the AP top 25.

“I have been told that the remaining schools are still supplying assets and are still communicating as if they are planning on being in the game,” Brown, 35, said. “Some of those institutions, like Northwestern, Tulane and Notre Dame, have said we won’t be in the game unless we can pay players.”

Including real players in the game and using their names and likenesses was the chief reason the series was discontinued after EA and the NCAA were taken to court over the unpaid use of player likenesses. Previously, the NCAA prohibited payments to college athletes, but a recent Supreme Court ruling overturned that prohibition, clearing the way for players to be compensated for their inclusion in the game. Last year, the lead attorney representing athletes in a case against the NCAA told The Post that EA Sports was willing to pay athletes to do so.

“I have been told that there is a high level of expectation within entities that work in the licensing world that athletes will be paid and that they will appear in the game,” Brown said. “It would be really surprising to me if that wasn’t resolved.”

Brown told The Post he’s gathered all of this information after filing 60-70 public records requests to schools with college football programs. In February of 2021, after EA Sports first announced it was bringing back the college football franchise, Brown created a spreadsheet and started sending out public records requests to universities with football programs. Brown said he does the work because he’s running a business, and his audience “cares deeply about this stuff.”

“The cool thing about this is because you’re working with so many public institutions, there’s a paper trail that’s accessible in a way that something with Madden or 2K is not,” Brown said. “A lot of people play video games, so a lot of people are interested in these stories.”

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Since April of 2020, Brown has been writing full time on college sports financing and licensing for his newsletter and podcast. An entire section of his website is dedicated to public records he’s obtained in his reporting, including the financial reports and coaching contracts at certain schools. Some schools and institutions charge processing fees for digging up records requests, and Brown estimates that he’s spent somewhere in the “low three-figures” procuring records from institutions. To Brown, EA Sports’ game — and whether players will appear in it — is a clear, practical example of how players may financially benefit from the shift in long-standing NCAA policies.

“More people play this video game than buy jerseys and certainly than buy trading cards,” Brown said. “This is, by far, the most popular. So, if I want to write about those issues, this is a good vehicle to do it.”