It happens every year.
Around this time every year, EA Sports releases its college football game to the general public. If you're a college football and Playstation 2 nut like myself, it's a time of great anticipation. Visions of pixellated players delivering bone-crushing hits to virtual quarterbacks. Getting your third-string running back a 100-yard rushing game against a patsy team (or better yet, a member of the Top 25). Setting up a "dynasty" mode and coaching your favorite team to a bowl game, or (even better) a playoff to determine the true national champion.
And many of you, like me, are asking the perennial question. "Are Lehigh (and the Patriot League teams) in there?"
For years, there seemed little hope of getting any 1-AA teams or conferences in the game. In the "olden days" (think 1996), it was a minor miracle to see any of the non-major conferences like the MAC or Sun Belt represented in the game. Adding insult to injury, whenever any team in the game would play a 1-AA school, the game in the schedule used to say "Nov. 3rd 1-AA East" or "Nov. 10th 1-AA West". (However, in the game, you could select to play with the "1-AA school" - and it was not hard to beat MAC or Sun Belt teams with them, either, much like it is in real-life today.)
Then in around 2000, the 1-AA revolution hit EA Sports' NCAA Football 2001. A few 1-AA teams were added to the full slate of 1-A teams in the game (such as Grambling, Southern, Montana, Montana St., Harvard, Yale, and others.). That's when I started to get excited about the possibility of playing Lehigh in EA Sports' NCAA Football for real. No more playing Army or Idaho to simulate the talent level and uniform color. Visions of playing Lehigh/Lafayette, and the 1-AA playoffs (never mind figuring out if can I beat Buffalo and Rutgers with Lehigh) danced through my head.
But, alas, there were no Patriot League teams in the game that year. You did have the option to add your team to an existing league. But for Lehigh this posed certain problems. You could put yourself in the Ivy League by "removing" a team like Columbia or Brown - or even replace all the Ivy teams with Patriot League teams - but then you don't qualify for the 1-AA playoffs, and 3-4 teams on your schedule need to be changed. The other option is to put Lehigh in the A-10, which isn't an accurate representation of Lehigh's non-scholarship status.
This meant any sort of Patriot League simulation I could manage was seriously compromised. So I didn't buy the game that year. In subsequent years, the exterior packaging would say, "Now with more 1-AA teams!" And I would get excited yet again that Lehigh and the Patriot League finally would be in it. But every year - still no Patriot League teams. Still no Lehigh.
After Colgate's run to the 1-AA finals last year, this year I thought, finally, there is no excuse to not have the Patriot League in the game. Without Colgate, you wouldn't even be able to relive last year's 1-AA championship game! Surely, this would be the year, with NCAA Football 2005, that Lehigh and Lafayette fans would actually be able to play and coach college football's most-played rivarly.
I went to Hollywood Video. My heart skipped a beat when I saw a version of NCAA 2005 running on one of the systems in the store. Hurriedly I selected "Play game". "Select your Team". "Switch to 1-AA". The tension was mounting! "Alabama A&M". Scroll down. "Brown". Scroll down. "Columbia". Realization sets in. No Colgate. No Lehigh.
So EA Sports won't get me to shell out my money to get the game this year. (Unless EA Sports wants to send me a complimentary copy... leave a comment or write an email for shipping information.)
Ten years of frustration finally bubbled over the boiling point. I wrote EA Sports and the Patriot League to get to the bottom of this "outrage". Trying not to sound sophomoric, and attempting successfully to not employ any swears, I voiced my displeasure to both the Patriot League and EA Sports. No message board was free from my barrage of words.
Fortunately for all, a representative of the Patriot League wrote me back, and gave me the scoop:
"According to EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing, the issue of carrying I-AA teams is a capacity issue in the game's set-up.
I have put a request into EA Sports requesting the addition of Patriot League Football institutions for future versions of the game."
The Patriot League had a prompt response and action, and a civilized tone. Now hopefully EA Sports will listen to the Patriot League, and unnamed throngs of Patriot League fans, and include Patriot League teams for NCAA Football 2006. I know I'll buy it then.
Until then, I'll have to content myself with NCAA Tournament 2004 and get Lehigh to the Sweet 16 - again. (Unless EA Sports gets that complimentary copy of NCAA Football 2005 to me - soon.)