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There's a New Way to Pitch in NCAA Football

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I've often felt that the recruiting simulation in NCAA Football could be a salesmanship trainer at some kind of corporate retreat. Unlike the free agency or trading periods in other sports video games, you're not sending contract terms back and forth with the CPU. Money doesn't talk here, you do.

You have to understand a high schooler's priorities and sell to them. You have to respect the independence of their decisionmaking while chipping at what your competitors have told them. Sometimes you have to guarantee something completely beyond your control like, say, a national championship.


So, coach, what the hell are you gonna do when your starting tight end knocks on your door and tells you he's homesick?

That's one new wrinkle in a general overhaul of the "pitch system" in NCAA Football's Dynasty mode, whose recruiting mandate makes it the most intensive and interesting sports management simulation available on a console. Gone is the frustrating "roulette wheel" of past versions, where you'd simulate calling a player on the phone and having to discuss a random attribute of your program, whether it's a strength, a weakness, or even something the kid is interested.


The wild cards will now be manifested in scouting high school players, who may not be as good as their ranking suggests, and in managing the needs of your current roster, who may be looking turning professional early, or transferring to a school nearer to mom and dad.

But the underlying structure has become more transparent and less subject to whim. In the past, attracting talent depended upon a number of selling points beyond your control—your campus lifestyle, television exposure and the prestige of your conference . These were all graded and set throughout your career, even if you altered a conference's makeup. They were a source of considerable outrage from offended alumni, who would take to EA Sports forums to complain about being rated a B- in academic prestige or championship contender status. And an unduly driving factor was the team's Bowl Championship Series ranking.

"This year, we created the means to influence those pitches to recruits," said Jordan Peterson, "and the game exposes those conditions to the users." For example, the "conference prestige" grade. Meant to measure a recruit's desire to play in an elite league like, say, the Atlantic Coast Conference, it will now adjust for the performance of that conference's teams that year. This means a coach can sell into a spike, so to speak, if he's coaching a team in an up-and-comer conference whose programs are gathering a lot of attention at the time.



The pros and cons your football program presents to a prospect will be more transparent, more customized to the recruit's needs, and more open to influence by how your team performs.

A team's playing style will also be the basis for a customized pitch to the prospect; for example, a team largely based on an option offense won't have as much appeal to a quarterbacking prospect strongly rated as a dropback passer. "Championship contender," perhaps the most immovable of the gradings, will now examine your school's roster for the next four years and judge whether it has the talent to make a run.


The "homesickness" example is in what happens when your players get restless after they have signed. The design team promises that one will be rare, and sensibly managed (if he can't be persuaded to stay, the player won't go to a rival in the same geographic area, or to another school just as far from his home state). But it and the need to convince talented players not to turn pro are aspects of actual program management, and ones EA Sports wanted to reflect here.

But it also shows how your school's reputation can work for or against you. Being regarded as a prime refinery of professional talent can attract a lot of high school recruits. It can also encourage them to bail out on you early. Regardless, you will still get a chance to convince these players to stay—to re-recruit them with the same kinds of promises you make to high school kids throughout the year—playing time, postseason success, and the like. You can even use a player's projected draft status against his desire to leave.


As for the main high-school recruiting game, the game does away with the infuriating "roulette wheel" that governed a simulated phone conversation. Now you as the coach can select a topic to discuss or simply ask the prospect what he's interested in, and then react to that interest. If you're not bringing up something that's a strength of you program, you'll be asking the player to talk about a quality that's an actual priority, much more like a conversational negotiation. In the past, the game would automate the topic selection, and sometimes wind up on a subject in which the recruit had little interest and in which you were rated low (Coach Loyalty was my favorite.) Dynasty's biggest upgrade, outside of the presentation changes mentioned yesterday, seems to be in having a more productive discussion at a blue-chipper's kitchen table.

Scouting is the other new component of talent management. You can send assistant coaches to examine a player and see if he lives up to the hype, in virtual sessions as long as 60 minutes each. Depending upon the core traits influencing the position, (kickers have the least, a running back or linebacker would have the most) you can get a quick handle on whether you've found an underrated gem or an overrated bust.


By creating this variable, NCAA Football wants to pry the game loose from the rigid structure of past years, when the only way to bring top talent to your program was to convince a true 5-star recruit to join up. This is meant to create a chance to find overlooked prospects who increasingly form the story of a striver program's breakout year. You can go star-chasing as before, but the 3- and 4-star recruits you'd normally get will lose interest.

One final note about the changes to "Dynasty." The game will include the new Southeastern Conference alignments, of course, and figuring out its schedule rotation was a nightmare. The SEC will play an eight-game conference schedule, six of which will be divisional games that repeat every year, one of which will be an extradivisional protected rivalry, leaving one as a rotating random matchup.


The SEC provided EA Sports no guidance on this rotation, having not yet determined it. "If they ever want to know how that rotation works, they can come see us," sighed Ben Haumiller, a producer on the game. "I had to turn it over to a math major."