It’s the official start of the college football season – i.e. Christmas in September. Which, for most years, means I’ve been playing NCAA Football for a month to get ready. After the second straight year of not having an NCAA Football game to play, I realize just how much I miss it.
Don’t get me wrong, Madden 16 is a fantastic football game, and I agree with the decision that ultimately killed NCAA Football, but it doesn’t mean I can’t miss it. Here are five things that Madden simply can’t match.
1. School Spirit
I live in LA; I have no favorite NFL team. While an almost strictly aesthetic preference, being able to play as my favorite college football team (USC), is my favorite part about NCAA Football, even if the players don’t have names. Add to that the fact that I can play in the Coliseum, complete with a student section and fight songs, and it reminds me that I’m not only playing a different game, but I’m also playing as my favorite team. It might seem minor, but imagine playing a Madden game without NFL-licensed teams. It would feel different.
The biggest differences between Madden and NCAA comes off the field. In the NFL, you’re dealing with contracts, a salary cap, and draft picks. Creating a perennial contender while working within a salary cap is an enjoyable challenge, but it doesn’t beat the intertwined nature of in-season recruiting. In NCAA, every game you play matters, because any loss could send the star quarterback to your rival. Properly spreading out your time to meet your recruiting needs is its own challenge, and you’re rewarded for winning. It’s an entirely different process, and I miss it.
The hashmarks are one of the more overlooked differences between the college and pro games, but they still matter. The wider hashmarks create a wider far side, which in turn leads to a lot more offensive chicanery. Teams spread their playbooks wider, creating offenses based on speed and spacing. The Run ‘n Gun, triple option, and whatever the heck Oregon runs are all things you won’t find in the NFL. You have a lot more variety with what you want to run, and variety is the spice of life. You won’t find that many variations in the NFL, and you certainly won’t find a team that runs entirely out of the shotgun.
4. Race for the Heisman
I went over the importance of recreating the athlete experience before, and while EA has never quite gotten it right, Road to Glory has always trumped Madden’s Be a Pro. The most recent NCAA let you play an entire season as your high school team, then get recruited based on how you played. It also lets you play as former Heisman winners, stepping into the shoes of guys you’ve now seen in the pros. It’s the first mode I really remember that let you be the big man on campus, and that’s a big part of putting yourself in the shoes of a virtual athlete.
5. Be the Little Guy
College football is all about underdogs. It’s what makes it so great. The biggest upsets in the sport happen on the college level, and NCAA Football gave you a chance to really fill the underdog role. It’s your chance to take the Idaho Vandals and turn them into the powerhouse they’ve never been. It’s more satisfying to turn a program around than to revitalize the Jacksonville Jaguars.
What about you? Do you miss NCAA Football? Let me know why in the comments!
Whether or not there’s a solution to this depends on the question of student-athlete compensation, which is a whole other issue. I just hope the powers that be find a solution, because while Madden is great, there are some ways in which it just doesn’t cut it.