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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #32: NCAA Football

That's a real guy. I don't know who it is, but it's a real guy.

Some initial stipulations:

Big-time college football is a corrupt cesspit of greed, exploitation, and hypocrisy.

Big-time college in general is a broken system in need of total reinvention.

Football in general is one of life's beautiful games, but one that exacts far too high a price from those who play it.

End stipulations.

It's no secret that football (as opposed to futbol) is my favorite sport. To play, to watch, to follow. And we're not just talking about Johnny-come-lately Patriots fandom; some of us endured 1989 and 1991 and the desert crossings before the Kraft-Belichick-Brady axis of evil delivered an unequalled stretch of pigskin dominance in the new millennium. And I should also note that I'm almost exclusively a fan of the pro game; as a New Englander, I've attended far more college hockey games than college football games (though as a student at UNH I enjoyed our 1-AA - now FCS - teams and their very-nearly student athletic contests). All of that said, my favorite football video game, perhaps one of my favorite video games of all time, was based on college football. I'm talking about the scintillating EA Sports series NCAA Football.

Look, I've played a lot of Madden, and there have been a lot of hours of entertainment with that title. But if I had a choice, I'd rather play NCAA Football. I adored the recruiting interface, allocating points to regions and prospects, scouting and cajoling and building blue-chip classes to replace my "graduating" stars on their way to the pros. I loved setting my schedule, balancing conference games with titanic tilts against big-time opponents. This was particularly fun when playing the game with my chosen method, selecting a bottom-feeder program like Old Dominion or UMass and building them into a wrecking ball that challenged the likes of Alabama and Texas for supremacy. The game itself was more fun than Madden too, with a more kinetic, frenetic style alongside the pageantry and noise of college football. There was always something special, too, about recruiting a scrawny 17-year old kid to be your quarterback, guiding him for three or four years, and then importing him into Madden where you could draft him to helm your NFL team. Vertical integration in the vertical passing game. Talk about career mode!

Nothing good can last, of course. This game got tangled up when its strength became its vulnerability. The rosters were based on real players, not with their names, but with numbers and positions and sort-of-likenesses, and so eventually prominent players came a-knocking with some difficult questions about compensation to which EA Sports and the NCAA could not fathom an answer. And so after the 2014 iteration, NCAA Football was mothballed. Sad! The good news is that since the NCAA has loosened strictures on payments to players, I understand work is underway on a new college football game for the PlayStation. I await it eagerly. The University of Montana isn't going to turn itself a powerhouse, after all.

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