On July 9, 2013, NCAA Football 14 by EA Sports hit stores. The cover athlete was former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, whom the Jaguars had taken a few months earlier. It might have been Johnny Manziel, the most recent Heisman winner, but NCAA athletes can’t accept money for their likenesses.
That last part is basically why the series halted. The NCAA’s preference that its athletes don’t get paid led to court cases. Those court cases led colleges to stop licensing out their logos, uniforms, and stadiums for a video game.
But the game remains beloved. Many of us have hung onto outdated Xbox 360s or PlayStation 3s just so we can play it. Five-star recruits in the class of 2019 — who were 12 or so when the last game came out — still find time between Fortnite battles to guide Eastern Michigan to national championships.
And a brigade of enterprising message board posters has done its best to keep the game alive, updating rosters every year.
PC gamers have lots of options. There, people have even converted Madden into a college football game.
But for players who want updated rosters in a 2013 console game, they’re not hard to find. That’s thanks to gamers like those at the Operation Sports message boards, who have gone through every team and kept their rosters current. The rosters are downloadable from the in-game vaults.
Seven gamers have formed an “editing team” that’s done the lion’s share of OS’ work to keep NCAA 14 as fresh as possible.
“But there are dozens more contributing to the roster thread with relevant info,” Chris Sanner, the forum’s executive editor, writes in an email.
It takes a few weeks each offseason to get the rosters done. A trip through the forums shows fans of different teams chiming in over several weeks to offer help and feedback.
“I would love to do Georgia Techs roster I could 100% have it done by Monday,” one fan wrote in February 2017. “I can contact Muck on twitter about it.”
You can follow the roster update thread and watch editors note when they’re taking a turn with the main file. Then they’ll follow up with something like this:
The file is back in my locker. I’ll try and update a few more coaches tomorrow if I can.
PSN: vikesfan059 Check: Iowa has OC Brian Ferentz
Through Iowa St. coaches, the following for coaches has been updated:
Longest Win Streak
Top 25 Wins
Top 25 Losses
Years at Current Team
Coach of the Year Awards
Alabama hasn’t officially named an OC yet so a placeholder holder coach is being used until they do. Ratings were not updated.
Yeah. They even replicate real-life assistant coaches in extreme detail.
Why spend the time to make a five-year-old video game a little better for strangers?
“The motivation part is something I can’t give a direct answer for, but what I can tell you is that we have an amazing and dedicated group of community members who do amazing projects like this all the time,” Sanner writes. “I can’t imagine there being a group of gamers anywhere else with more passion and dedication to improving the sports gaming experience. These guys put in long hours and do it for free.”
There’s no way to get the College Football Playoff into the game. But you can, for example, download create-a-team versions of programs that have joined FBS since the game went away — Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, and Liberty — and slide one in for Idaho, which has since dropped to FCS. And you can keep up with other real conference realignment moves.
Here’s a player-created Coastal Carolina, which sadly lacks its teal home field:
Still, the people who made NCAA Football want a new game just as much as you do.
For the game to come back, schools need to decide they’re OK with it. That will require outstanding court cases to wrap up and the schools to be comfortable that they’re not creating liabilities for themselves.
The NCAA office doesn’t have to be involved; if the 130 FBS schools agree to license their logos, stadiums, and uniforms, EA could call the game College Football 24 or whatever (as was briefly the plan during the 2013 legal turmoil) without using the NCAA’s name. EA strikes individual licensing deals with bowl games, postseason trophies, and ESPN, while most of the colleges do their licensing deals through two or three agencies.
The schools would also have to decide what they’re willing to share with their players. Many players got three-figure payments from previous court settlements, and some commentators have proposed paying players up front in amounts comparable to the game’s retail price. It’s up to the schools; EA wanted to pay players all along. The game probably can’t happen until this gets figured out.
In the meantime, other game developers have tried to fill the void.
There’s a handful of computer games with small followings.
For example, Bowl Bound College Football launched in 2005 as an answer to other sports’ manager games, which don’t have gameplay but give users immense control over program decisions. That game now has an update to feature the Playoff, even a 16-team format.
“A lot of the college football games were more arcade-y,” says Arlie Rahn, the CEO behind the game. “EA did a nice job. You could do recruiting, and you could have some kind of coach experience, but what I really wanted was to have a game where you could basically run an entire program. You could set your gameplans and pick your plays and recruit specific types of players and hire scouts.”
Rahn said he’s seen a spike in interest over the last three years. Like NCAA, the game is sustained by its users, who can access a database with an updated list of FBS teams and customize it however they want — a simpler process than EA’s console game.
“Any time you have a lot of interest in it, I think a lot of people willing, the biggest thing you can do as a developer is give ‘em the ability to do it fairly simply,” Rahn says. “Nobody wants to sit there and have to do manual labor for a week to get it done, so if you can get it on a format that works, CSV file for roster stuff or a like a database-type setup for teams, then a lot of people will spend the couple hours.”
The game ships with fake team names, which a download can override:
- Real teams, thanks to a file some guy put on a message board. (There’s just one little misspelling. See if you can find it.)
- Budgeting for the 2018 season at Maryland, my alma mater.
- Building a gameplan.
- Depth charting, with fake players.
- The final AP Top 25 equivalent.
- The Big Ten standings. (Lol at Nebraska.)
- It’s even got the right bowl tie-ins for the freaking Dollar General Bowl.
In the way of console games, there’s always one or another company announcing plans to ship a college game. Doug Flutie has attached his name to one effort. In 2018, a company called IMackulate Vision Gaming said it plans to release a game in 2020. These games wouldn’t ship with real teams, but again, crowdsourcing would give them some upside, if they could accomplish a good gameplay simulation.
EA’s waiting for a green light. How long it would take to get a new NCAA onto your Xbox One or PS4 depends on a few things.
If the schools decided to play ball, a fair estimate is that it would take two years to bring it to market. EA builds NCAA on the Madden engine and would probably wait a cycle to get gameplay up to speed.
EA would have to make decisions about asset creation: Does it send a team to scan all 130 FBS stadiums anew, or does it start with the Power 5 and use a few composites for everyone else in year one? Does it build every single uniform combination for every team, or does it start everyone out with one or two options, maybe with downloads later? How much of its recruiting and dynasty mode does it just port over from the last game, and how much does it make new?
This game means different things to different people.
Maybe you wanted it to be as real as possible and downloaded rosters year after year.
Maybe you only wanted to make Meek Mill Temple’s QB and win championships or put a remote community college in and win championships or move Hawaii to the Pac-12 and win championships or leave the South Alabama job for LSU and win championships. (Our staff did all of those things, among others.)
A good video game lets the player get lost in their imagination for a few hours. For now, the most fun thing to imagine is what NCAA will be like if and when it comes back.