University of Washington

Discontinuation of ‘NCAA Football’ video game has players bummed out

Washington Huskies receiver Kendyl Taylor was born into a football-loving family.

He plays. His brothers play. His dad played. And their progression was like many others who enjoy the game just as much as they do — first it was PlayStation, then PS2, now Xbox 360.

Oh, sure, they play on the field, too. But the decade-old family tradition of sitting in front of a television screen, powering on the console and playing EA Sports’ NCAA Football video game might be just as memorable.

And, sadly, it is no more.

Or at least it’s not new anymore. The final release was NCAA 14, which came out last summer with rosters updated to reflect the 2013 season. But with the O’Bannon v. NCAA court case looming — a federal judge recently ruled against the NCAA, deeming it in violation of antitrust laws because the organization does not allow players to compensate from use of their likenesses — the NCAA decided in September to discontinue its partnership with EA Sports.

So there is no NCAA 15, the first year since 1993 — Bill Walsh College Football, anyone? — that EA Sports hasn’t made a college football video game. And that’s a tough decision to swallow for Taylor and millions of kids his age, or slightly older, or a lot older, or slightly younger.

Consider that an 18-year-old who bought NCAA 98 on PC or PlayStation would now be 34, and probably no less interested in commanding a spread-option offense and recruiting fictional, computer-generated players in order to build a powerhouse program in the forever-popular Dynasty mode than he or she would have been back in college, heating their dorm room with the hours-long buzz of a gaming console.

(Not that we would know anything about that.)

“I definitely miss it,” said Taylor, who estimates he has been playing since roughly 2002. “Just a family thing; my brothers and I, my dad (Keith Taylor, a former NFL defensive back), we all just played it and competed against each other. Now that there’s not a new one, it’s kind of sad because my brother (Kerry Taylor, now a receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars) got all his years in and I wanted to get mine and hopefully see my little brother get his.”

This is where the issue becomes complicated. College football and basketball video games have never included player names. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the last five years, “QB #17” on Washington’s roster was quite obviously Keith Price. The numbers and positions in the video game nearly always match the real-life rosters. Player ratings, using a 100-point scale, typically approximate closely what those players can do in real life (though there are notable and comical exceptions, such as the year Nick Montana was assigned a higher speed rating than Jake Locker), and specific player builds and playing styles usually resemble real life, too. And, yes, real-life players have always appeared on the game’s cover, though never while those players were still in school.

Plus, there have always been industrious folks who take the time to input the names of each real player on each real Division I roster, then upload those rosters on Xbox Live, where they are instantly available for users to download.

There’s even a roster update out there for the 2014 season. Taylor downloaded it, though he says if it had been him, he’d have bumped the Huskies’ ratings up a bit.

And to illustrate just how popular this game is among college-aged folks, consider that UW actually used the NCAA Football game to create video-game versions of each player in its 2012 signing class, uploading “highlight reels” of each computer-generated player to its official website as letters of intent from the real-life recruits rolled through the fax machine.

Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon brought the aforementioned lawsuit against the NCAA because of EA Sports’ use of his likeness in a video game without his permission. But the judge who ruled against the NCAA dictated that the organization must allow players to be compensated for uses of their likeness, meaning that if the video game ever returns, players whose likenesses are used would be entitled to a payout.

But that seems to be immaterial to current college players, or at least to the handful of Huskies asked about it over the last week.

“We’re not worried about money and all that,” said junior receiver Jaydon Mickens, who says NCAA Football is one of his favorites and estimates he gave the ball to Reggie Bush “40 or 50 times” per game while playing as USC back in the day. “We’re just appreciative and thankful for at least being on a video game. A lot of people can’t say they’re on a video game that people buy in stores worldwide.”

Junior cornerback Marcus Peters went so far as to say playing the video game helps him better process schemes and strategy.

Taylor isn’t oblivious to the debate. He understands the issues involved. He just doesn’t see it as that big of a deal.

“I kind of waver both ways. I understand the people that think they should be getting paid for it,” Taylor said. “But also, I want to see the game out there. Us kids growing up, you always have those games around, and so you look forward to, ‘Oh, I might be able to be on the game,’ and wouldn’t have to create myself. So for that part, it kind of stinks.”