Remembering NCAA Football (and maybe looking forward)

When I was in middle school and played a lot more video games than I do now, there was one series that I could play like it was the last series of video games on the planet: EA Sports’ NCAA Football video game series. It was simple and straightforward: college football that could rival any game in the Madden series, and even ESPN NFL 2K5, which I consider to be perhaps the best football game I ever played. My favorite thing to play was the Dynasty Mode, where you can take a team and lead them to greatness. I did this with my Oho State Buckeyes, although the popular thing among many players would be to take a program that nobody cares about and lead them to greatness…which I also did by taking the Ohio Bobcats from the MAC to a victory in the Rose Bowl (it was the BCS era).

However, following the release of NCAA Football 14, the video game landscape was changed forever. The NCAA became tangled in a long legal battle over players being compensated for the use of their likenesses in the game. At first the NCAA announced that they wouldn’t renew their licensing deal, meaning that the NCAA wouldn’t put their name in the title. Later, the SEC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 confrences announced that they wouldn’t license their trademarks for the next game in the series. As a result, there would be no NCAA Football 15, and a game series was pretty much dead and buried, leaving only memories and dynasty stories. (Thank you, Wikipedia for all those details.)

I was in college when the death bell rang. I kind of fell out of playing video games during my sophomore year because of the workload taking most of my time, so the reason for this post is me going back and watching dynasty playlists on YouTube which caused the memories to come back. What are my thoughts? I want college football to come back so freaking much.

This series perfectly captures what college football is about, from the atmosphere to hitting the recruiting trail to make a name for yourself as a coach. As for 14? I’ve seen it being played, and honestly, it shows how a new game could be greatly welcomed. It’s stuck in a time warp. NCAA Football 14 was the last game of the BCS era, and while that may be a nitpick, it’s just something that’ll date this game greatly. Also, they didn’t bring back the team entrances that were featured in some games prior. (Here’s a collection of entrances from NCAA Football 12, and while it’s not exact, it’s pretty damn good for a video game. While that may be nitpicking, I think that’s important because of the fact that presentation is a big deal in college football, and college football is one of the most atmospheric sports out there in that going to a game at the stadium will blow watching the game on TV out of the water.

Not only is the last NCAA Football game a permanent reminder of the BCS era, but the legal trouble had caused the series to miss the explosion of sports games on YouTube, so the Dynasty mode and Road to Glory modes this series had to offer wouldn’t be able to achieve the views that grace the playlists of Franchise modes in Madden, the MyGM and MyLeague modes of the NBA 2K series, and the career modes (both manager and player) of FIFA. How unfortunate.

So, now what? What is there to do if you’re a college football fan looking for a video game for your sport? Well, there is one option. A company called iMackulate Vision Gaming is working to build a college football game of their own. And while they admit that they won’t have NCAA licensing right away, they’ll be able to let the game be customizable to a player’s content. Here’s their FAQ list if you want to know what their gameplan is.

What would I put in my own college football game if I had the knowledge and funds? While I’m going on imagination and assuming unlimited funds (think of those “where would you go to college if cost wasn’t a factor?” lines you probably got asked in high school), here I go:

  • An emphasis on presentation. While the gameplay is key in any video game regardless of genre, I really think that college football is a type of area that can really benefit from putting a little extra in the presentation. As I said earlier in this post, college football is an experience, and capturing the gameday experience can go a long way with a lot of people, myself included.

One of the things I would like to see is a well established dynasty mode. Dynasty mode was my favorite thing to play in the NCAA Football series, to the point where I wouldn’t play anything else So, these bullet points are dedicated to my hypothetical Dynasty mode:

  • A way for storylines to be created This’ll help a lot with those who consider themselves storytellers through sports games. You can have people build a program from literally nothing, create a coach that can build his name through the ranks of college football, and even take on the task of rebuilding a program tarred by scandal, even it’s for something unspeakable like the dark clouds that loom over Baylor, which many people felt should have been given the death penalty by the NCAA. While I wouldn’t do something that morbid, I’d be surprised if somebody would try to do that kind of storyline in a dynasty mode.
  • Helmet stickers. A lot of colleges have them, and maybe you can determine what earns a helmet at your school. It’s just something that could help make your school be what your vision is, especially if you create a school from scratch.
  •  A new look at recruiting. If I remember correctly, EA Sports has a create-a-recruit feature for their dynasty modes, meaning you could create a recruit and put him in that season’s recruiting class as one of the many that your program could pursue. And with that, you can even design the high school uniform. And with that comes with creating a backstory and what type of player the recruit is. (And you can even do something like creating reels of recruits for each year of your dynasty that you may pursue. Here’s an example: Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, and Year 4.) Also, you can even make a sort of high school type of Dynasty mode where you compete for state championships and the prestige of producing top tier recruits on a yearly basis.
  • Player personalities. Previous NCAA Football games had this with recruits had desires (for lack of a better word) such as playing time, proximity to home, and the potential to go to the NFL. This also was seen in promises you could make for prospects, such as giving them a certain amount of playing time or giving them a specific jersey number. You could also have some players be subject to the injury bug, presenting a risk as to if you want to pursue that particular player in recruiting. These would be awesome to bring back. However, there is one other thing that this could play into…
  • Discipline. I remember in the PS2 and Xbox eras, I would occasionally have to deal with a disciplinary issue involving one of the players. Granted, it was nothing as big as what happened at Baylor or Penn State or North Carolina; instead, it was small things such as cheating on a test, cutting class, or one of those “conduct detrimental to the team” things. And all those times it was a player with a discipline rating of a “D” or something.  I’d have a certain number of points if I chose to take action (oh yeah, you’d have the option of if you want to take action or not), to spend on suspending players, be it for a quarter, a few games, or even the entire season. It’s a matter of how lenient or strict you want to be. Though if you’re too lenient, you can find yourself on probation and being doomed to be put on probation, not be in the postseason, have scholarships reduced, not be on TV…and those were the only things I remember. Looking back, that was something that put a level of authenticity in the experience. Maybe you can even do something bigger. How about have the recruit discipline be a factor, such as “your recruit is known for being a headcase, such as having problems like grades that make them barely eligible or they’ve been ejected from a few games (hey, maybe that new targeting rule can be a thing in a new college football game), and you have to decide if it’s worth it to pursue someone that comes with baggage”. How about even kicking someone off the team? That could be even big and even be one of the actions that can develop a reputation for your coach, and maybe attract or drive away recruits (among other things). For a series that releases annually and can easily receive criticism for being the same game year after year, that would be a way to stand out from the competition.
  • The coaching carousel. This was something that was featured in the last few NCAA Football entries, and it was meant to simulate the real world of college football coaching, where head coaches and offensive and defensive coordinators were fired and hired by other schools. In what I’ve seen, this only happens in the offseason though, in real life, head coaches are fired in the middle of the season, and interims are put in place, and sometimes interim coaches become the permanent man in charge. This could be cool, especially if you have…
  • Integration with Madden. Granted, this can probably only happen if EA Sports comes back into making NCAA Football, since they have the exclusive license to NFL games, have had it for over a decade, and most likely won’t relinquish it anytime soon. Still, I think that something can come from this. You could have the coaching carousel involve Madden with NFL coaches taking college jobs and vice versa. You can have every Dynasty week play into the big board for the NFL draft in a Franchise mode, which will play into some of the players on your team that mull over going pro; one of the things that you could do to convince your player to stay was that you could say that if they stayed, they could increase their draft stock. It could be like my idea where you have high school games impact recruiting. I’m sure EA Sports could figure out this complicated system, even if it takes them several years. I wonder what would happen if a rival company approached them with the concept if they don’t think of it themselves.

I know these ideas are out there, but honestly, every time the new round of sports games is released, an annual reminder that there’s a void in that universe. And that void is the lack of a great college football video game. And that void grows bigger with each passing year. Here’s to hoping that void gets filled before we all die.

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