You should be at least one season and one Signing Day into your newest Army, Coastal Carolina, or Kansas dynasty right now, if EA Sports hadn't had to halt the series in 2013 amid courtroom entanglements due to the NCAA shoving its sticky hands directly into the wallets of student-athletes.
So here’s a question: who would've been the cover athlete for this year's game, and for the previous years as well?
Assuming EA had somehow collectively bargained the ability to have real players in the game, but was still unable to convince the NCAA to let it spotlight a current amateur on the cover, that'd mean still going with recently drafted pros, but showing them in their college gear. The last cover IRL was Michigan QB Denard Robinson.
So for NCAA 15, we would've first looked at the players taken in the 2014 NFL draft, for example.
If it still had to be outgoing college athletes, I think the list would've been:
- NCAA 15: Putting Johnny Manziel on the cover would've meant attention, but would EA have gambled on associating itself with his off-field behavior? Even before the benefit of hindsight, that would’ve felt risky. The safer pick would've been South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, who also would've added some position-group diversity. There have been too many QBs and RBs, but Clowney was as big a college star as a DE could be.
- NCAA 16: Most companies weren’t comfortable with #1 pick Jameis Winston, for pretty obvious reasons. #2 pick Marcus Mariota of Oregon was an even more recent Heisman winner, and with a more video game-friendly style.
- NCAA 17: Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott could’ve been the choice, and even shortly after the draft, EA could've seen he'd likely do well with the Cowboys. You want your cover guy to still perform well on the field, even though it's in a different uni. But how about a different Buckeye who got drafted even higher, and to keep diversifying the position groups on the cover: OSU teammate Joey Bosa? He even had the pose ready:
- NCAA 18: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson over LSU RB Leonard Fournette and Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett. Watson emerged as the star of two straight complete seasons and thus went down as an all-time legend. Oh, and every college fan knew all along he’d be a good pro, so he’s clearly beloved among the game’s core audience.
- NCAA 19: Two amazing options. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield had tons of personality, would’ve been a blast in the game, and had Heisman/#1 pick notoriety. You could make a strong case for Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, though, who might’ve been NCAA’s most enjoyable virtual player ever. A tiebreaker: give Mayfield a planting-the-flag cover.
- NCAA 20: A second straight OU QB, Kyler Murray, would be the simplest choice, though that’s kinda weird, right? Instead, in a draft class otherwise pretty low on skill-position star power, we’re here to capture the summer of 2019. It’s Houston DT Ed Oliver demonstrating immense yeehaw energy.
Expect the game to return at some point, but not any time soon. You can still play any of the old games, and you can still download updated rosters. Dedicated internet communities update the game’s rosters every year. Otherwise, just never give away your old Xbox 360 or PS3.
For now, that’s about all we have, until the NCAA steps out of the way of the free market.