Word broke today that the SEC was not going to enter any further relationship with EA Sports, effectively ending the longest running college football video game series. Common logic dictates that Mike Slive is attempting to avoid any further legal snafus stemming from the ongoing O'Bannon case, which, by the way, is NOT going well for the NCAA. But has anyone considered the alternative?
Is there more money in cutting the middle man out and developing their own video game?
I know this sounds, and probably is, ludicrous, that without the other 111 FBS schools, the value of such an endeavor drops. But, there IS a market for a college football video game. A BIG one. If the SEC were to partner with a big time game developer and release their own game, it would sell - at least for one season, even if the gameplay is awful. And if they were to enter an exclusive licensing deal with said company, and not allow their 14 schools to appear in any other video game, what is the value of any competitor? It certainly drops considerably.
I would argue that the biggest market for a college football game comes from the SEC footprint. Those fans are the most vested in the product. If all of the other conferences band together and make their own video game, sure, there are probably more combined fans of the other 111 schools, but that's also a pie being split 111 different ways. Bang for your buck, if produced properly, an SEC video game would give the 14 schools better return on investment than any game requiring splitting the cash further.
All of this, of course, begs the question: what would the SEC video game contain to differentiate it from whatever the competition might throw out there?
Let's cover the basics first. We're partnering with CBS. Yes, I know that the ESPN deal includes the SEC Network, and the game would be a neat marketing tool by implementing SEC Network graphics on the exclusively licensed SEC video game, but like the game of the week, let's give CBS first crack at this and see if they bite with a wad of bills. I want Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Tracy, Wolfson, and Tim Brando. I want the CBS graphics. I want the national anthem of college sports themes. A deal could be brokered to include both ESPN and CBS on the game, sort of like what EA did with the college hoops game a few years back. That would best serve the interests of the conference AND its media partners.
Speaking of partners, The Home Depot is already on board. We even slapped their logo on the cover. I hope those backwoods fools down in Louisiana don't think this is a carpentry game. We're also bringing in Chick-Fil-A and Dr. Pepper and we're going to put their brands and commercials all thru our game. But we're not stopping there. We're going campus to campus, town to town, and we're asking for sponsorship from the little guys, too. Then, when you're on campus for a home game at Auburn, Gary will talk about going down and having some of the lemonade at Toomer's Drugs, and if you're down on the Bayou, Verne will talk about his dinner at Ruffino's. The SEC is more than just a football conference of 14 teams - it's a way of Southern life, interconnected by the culture of its towns. Our SEC video game is going to help capture that. Since we're only targeting 14 campuses and 14 towns, we can explore those locations far beyond any video game has ever gone. We may even go GTA on this puppy and give you missions to accomplish IN THE TOWN before kickoff. (KIDNAP THE COUNTRY MUSIC STAR IN DOWNTOWN NASHVILLE AND DITCH THE CAR!! +$6000! Welcome to big boy football, Vandy!)
If we're only dealing with 14 towns, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and a few other neutral site locales (such as bowl locations), that means we're ignoring everyone else. It's an SEC game - if you want the ACC or the Big Ten, go buy the other game; it won't have Bama or LSU or A&M or Florida. We're going all generic on their teams, their players, and their stadiums. If it were this season, LSU would be opening at AT&T Stadium against the purple-clad Fort Worth University and next year against Madison College. Florida would be headed south to play South Beach U. in Week 2. Slive and his crew may even see to it that the burnt orange Austin University and scarlet and gray Columbus College get dinged a few extra ratings points across the board. (I hope so, the pettier this game, the better.) In the next paragraph, I'll go over my favorite part of the game, which would theoretically include South Carolina DE #97... or, ya know what... Jadeveon Clowney pop some dude from Ann Arbor U in the Outback Bowl. Yes, we cut a deal to get real players in the game. Come to the SEC, be included in a video game. They're going to get a cut, on the conference's terms. (If this were to happen, go ahead and pre-order the game now, because you won't find it on a store shelf for at least eight months after release.)
Lots of unlockables are to be found in my favorite part of the game: SECnarios! It's not a new concept, but we're playing it up to the max here. FIFTY game scenarios you have to beat, in order of difficulty, all replicating the greatest SEC games ever. Each game unlocks something new, from coaches, players, retro teams, the works. Recreate Auburn's rally from 24-0 down to beat Bama in the 2010 Iron Bowl. Belue to Scott for 93 yards. Langham's interception of Shane Matthews in the '92 SEC Title Game. The Clint Stoerner game. And that's just brushing the surface.
The meat and potatoes of the game is of course the franchise/dynasty season-to-season dynamic, which we're calling Bear Bryant Mode. We're covering all the standards. EA's done all of this well over the years, even if some experiments were a bust. However, this is where we're going the extra mile here to fully capture the pettiness of SEC rivalries. Every interaction between teams and coaches will be tracked, every slight noted. Coaches throwing barbs at each other. Hell, video game Steve Spurrier has a shot of being the greatest video game character of all time. If Arkansas beats out A&M for a 3 star recruit, kid's getting heckled at Kyle Field his first time over there. Tennessee beats Bama for a 5 star recruit, boos will rain down on him in Tuscaloosa. South Carolina beats Georgia in a top five showdown in Columbia, the crowd's going to be extra hungry for the rematch in Athens next season. And if your national championship winning coach decides to leave and then return to a rival school in the division a few years later, the volume on your TV will break the first time he returns to Baton Rouge. The bigger the slight, the bigger the consequence. When those slights add up over a five year period, the rivalry rating goes thru the roof. If Florida's beaten Georgia 13 times in a row in Bear Bryant mode, rest assured Verne and Gary are going to tell you about it. If Arkansas upset LSU on a last second field goal the prior year, we're showing the replay a dozen times in the week leading up to the game. James Franklin talks some smack on the radio (we're getting there) about Tennessee, the quote shows up on the Vols' scouting report that week. Literally, every bit of pettiness we can squeeze into this thing. (Oh, and that rivalry rating number has no max in the SEC. We all know, just when you think the Bama/Auburn rivalry has peaked, there's ALWAYS something that can take it to another level, even if we're not putting the poisoning of trees in the game.) The ultimate goal here is to win the national title... but let's just say that the celebration video for winning the SEC Championship is a bit more wild than when you win the National Title. Ya know, exactly the way Bama handled winning both last season.
The soundtrack to the game is perhaps the most important part. We're not just doing fight songs - that's a given. But we're getting the full band playlists. That same silly tune that Bama's alleged Million Dollar Band plays 50 times a game (you know the one), it's there. All the different variations of War Eagle, not just the TD version. (And yes, the flyover's included here, too, along with every other pregame ritual in the conference.) If you're at The Swamp, you're getting "We Are The Boys" as the crowd sways side to side. Oh, and we've got AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" for Bama's locker room intro. And in what's probably the most controversial inclusion in the game, Ole Miss is playing "Dixie." It comes with the territory. We're getting ALL the sounds of the SEC.
Yes, that means Finebaum.
He'll be gigging the different teams and fanbases on all the menu screens, following the season as it goes along. We COULD include Jim From Tuscaloosa to get the full effect, but that'd be cruel and unusual punishment. You'll have to interview with him at least once during the season. You'll have the option of changing the station and getting something else, but you won't be able to avoid him entirely.
How is this not the greatest sports video game of all time?
There I just told you how to do it. Now somebody go and make this happen. You've already got my money. And I don't even have a PS3 or an XBox. I'd buy one just for this. I'd also be single within a month.
Sixth Year Seniors is back! Phil Steele stopped by last week to talk the national picture and Alan & Mikey looked at conference realignment before jumping into conference previews next week.
If you were anything like me, professional wrestling played a big part of your childhood. For me, growing up in the Carolinas, sitting down for dinner at 6:05 with World Championship Wrestling on TBS was a weekly tradition, with my father explaining to me why the Midnight Express was kicking the crap out of jobbers every night or why the Four Horsemen would get cheered by the crowd despite being the bad guys. Ric Flair was the star of the show, with every episode hinging on whether the champ was in the house to cut a five star promo. (And when he did, it never failed to disappoint.) He was flanked by a plethora of charismatic performers, from Russian madman Nikita Koloff to pretty boy tag team Rock n Roll Express to weirdos like Baron Von Raschke and Jimmy Valiant.
When you think about it, this isn't really isn't much different than the modern day SEC Football scene, whose "Media Days" this week is always a circus of hot air and contrived drama. And that 3:30 ET slot starting mid-September on CBS is, week in and week out, must see television. And the star power in the conference is as high as ever. Alabama is looking to successfully defend its national title for a SECOND consecutive year, something never done in the modern era. There's that QB down in College Station that made some waves last year and getting a lot of hype this offseason. South Carolina has the single most dominant defensive force the college game has seen in a decade in Jadeveon Clowney. LSU reloads again, with batshit crazy head coach Les Miles leading the way. Georgia brings back star signal caller Aaron Murray after taking Bama to the limit in last year's conference title game. And it goes on and on...
I don't watch wrestling anymore. I get my fix of macho athletic feats and stilted melodrama every fall Saturday in the South. But if we were to compare the two, who's who in this overbooked soap opera for men?
ALABAMA is RIC FLAIR
This is a given. Nick Saban lives in the big house, on the big side of town. He rides around in long limousines and jet airplanes. His shoes cost more than your house. Bryant-Denny Stadium has the longest lines. I mean, what's causin' all this?? The Crimson Tide has more titles than anyone, even when you discount the disputed ones, like the Fujinami switch and that overseas three day swap with Rhodes back in the day, or when Bama claimed that national title after finishing the season ranked 20th in 1941. Nevertheless, to be The Man, you gotta beat The Man, and no bones about it, Alabama is "The Man" right now, not just in the SEC, but in all of college football. WHOOOOOOO, FAT BOY!
TENNESSEE is Dusty Rhodes
Speaking of fat boys, a football power from years past, Tennessee is Alabama's old rival, having squared off on the "Third Saturday in October" for years, even if it's now the fourth Saturday of the month. (Hey, even traditions like Starrcade got bumped a month due to money, ya know?) The Vols lay claim to the biggest stadium in the SEC, while Dusty lays claim to the biggest gut, but that doesn't keep either from putting away the alcohol when it's time, be it Natty Lights or wine via unconventional means. And if ANYONE knows about Hard Times right now, isn't it Tennessee?
Auburn is Ron Garvin
Will be remembered for a LONG time for being the champ under some curious circumstances. There were DEFINITELY some shenanigans afoot when Auburn stormed up the polls to take the 2010 National Championship. And there were plenty of backstage politics that led to Garvin taking the title from longtime nemesis Flair in the fall of 1987. In fact, if you look hard enough at the above picture, you can see the money changing hands, a la Cecil Newton a few years ago. (Maybe Trooper Taylor learned his $100 handshake from Jim Crockett?) Much like Bama the following season, Flair quickly won the title back, and Garvin, while not exactly escaping Utah State at the gun and landing on probation, wound up in lower midcard hell in the WWF not long after. Same difference.
Vanderbilt is Shaska Whatley
Once the harmless, lovable loser, destined for beatdowns at the hands the big boys week in and week out, Vanderbilt found itself a new head coach in James Franklin and things are looking up for the Dores. Much like when Pez Whatley found Paul Jones, was rechristened "Shaska," and instantly became a semi-player on the NWA midcard scene. I mean, yeah, Shaska wasn't beating Flair all of a sudden, but he was no longer doomed to jerk the curtain against guys like Sam Houston on syndicated Worldwide anymore, and Vandy isn't kicking off at 11:30 every week anymore. Amazing what a heel turn can do for a team.
Arkansas is Magnum T.A.
Oh, what might have been. A few years ago, Arkansas was a program on the rise, with an offense that was fun to watch and the potential to go toe to toe with the Bama's and the LSU's of the conference and become a major player. The Hogs even landed a spot in the Sugar Bowl where they got screwed by a fickle NCAA, allowing Ohio State to play with blatantly illegal players and beat them 31-26 in what remains the Big Ten's only BCS bowl win over an SEC school. Magnum, too, was on the precipice of becoming a superstar. After taking Tully Blanchard's U.S. Title in a bloodbath for the ages, he, too, was screwed by shoddy oversight, with archrival Nikita Koloff cheating like hell to steal the title in the summer of '86. And just when it seemed Magnum and Arkansas were both taking the final big step, the wreck happened. While Magnum was getting help just to walk at the '87 Crockett Cup, John L. Smith was losing by scores of 52-0, 58-10, and doing the job for Louisiana-Monroe. In Little Rock.
South Carolina is Michael "P.S." Hayes
It seems blasphemous to compare Badstreet, Atlanta, G-A's Michael Hayes to South Carolina and not the obvious school here, but I never said this would be perfect. Michael Hayes is one of the greatest talkers in the history of the business. Steve Spurrier is THE greatest talker in the history of his business. Whether it's gigging Georgia, Clemson, or referencing all of the coloring books in Auburn's library, the Head Ball Coach has talked smack to them all. Repeatedly. When Hayes struck off on his own, he didn't find much success. Neither did Spurrier, whose NFL tenure in Washington is laughed upon. Those failures were not the sole faults of Hayes and Spurrier, respectively, and each found more success when they returned to what they were the best at: being the figurehead for their tougher cohorts. One last note: while South Carolina flew the Confederate flag way longer than it should have, Michael Hayes WORE the Confederate flag way longer than he should have.
LSU is Terry Funk
Not exactly the most stable of environments, "Saturday Night in Death Valley" is renowned for its ludicrous fan behavior, alcohol consumption, and downright insanity. Terry Funk would fit right in. Another football power from years past, LSU stormed back onto the national scene in the last decade under Nick Saban, bagging a BCS Title before Saban left for greener NFL pastures, and eventually Alabama. The Tigers continued their domination anyway under their new head coach, as Jim Ross might put it, "goofy as a pet coon" Les Miles. Miles eats grass. Funk spits quarters. Despite being a former World Champion, the Funker was never all there either, a hothead known for crazy antics such as attempting to suffocate opponents with plastic bags, partaking in exploding ring "death matches," and doing moonsaults off of ladders twenty years past his prime. When Funk witnessed the title he once held go back around the waist of Ric Flair, he jumped him (while still wearing his tuxedo) and piledrove him thru a ringside table, setting off a feud of epic proportions. When Saban ended up in Tuscaloosa, the Bayou Bengals and the Tide set off on their own war, swapping wins, but, like Funk losing the blowoff I Quit Match to Flair in convincing fashion, LSU also lost the blowoff with Alabama, getting shutout 21-0 in the National Championship Game.
Florida is The Road Warriors
In the mid-80's, the Legion of Doom were the baddest of all the badasses. Hawk and Animal ran roughshod over the NWA, after having already run roughshod over the AWA. In the mid-00's, Florida was the gold standard in the SEC, banking two BCS Titles, just a few years removed from taking another National Title in '97, under Steve Spurrier. When Spurrier was there, you always took the Gators, no matter how ridiculous the spread was. When the Road Warriors fought, you always took the under on match time, as Iron Man would usually still be blaring when Hawk and Animal dumped some poor jabroni on their head with their Doomsday Device. Under head coach Urban Meyer, Florida unleashed a devastating move of its own, too: the Jump Pass! Guaranteed to be a touchdown every time it was thrown, the play resonates to this day, as we are reminded of it countless times on every CBS broadcast by Gary Danielson. The Gators haven't been the same since Meyer left, much like LOD was never the same without manager Paul Ellering.
Ole Miss is "Wildfire" Tommy Rich
While they may not be carrying high profiles, both Ole Miss and "Wildfire" Tommy Rich are legends in the South. Ole Miss claims three national titles from some 50 years ago and unfortunately hasn't seen much prolonged success since. Rich had a cup of coffee with the pinnacle of success, as well, upsetting Harley Race for the NWA Title in 1981 - a reign that lasted a grand total of four days. Both are HUGE in Memphis, and both are known partiers. The Grove in Oxford is generally accepted to be the best tailgating destination in the SEC and Wildfire is generally accepted as one of the biggest drinkers in wrestling history, so while not "successful" on paper, each have their perks.
Missouri is "The Z-Man" Tom Zenk
The new guy in town, Missouri's one year in the SEC was fairly uneventful. The most notable thing to happen was the bizarre thunderstorm delay in their home game versus Alabama, prolonging their eventual misery. In the late 80's, Tom Zenk was the new guy on World Championship Wrestling, and didn't do much of anything for many months. Zenk was just happy to be out of his crappy deal with former WWF tag team partner Rick Martel, as Zenk was getting paid way less than his Can-Am Connection partner had been. Missouri feels the Z-Man's pain, having ditched their old Big XII home due to other schools, namely Texas, getting more than their fair share of the pie, at least in Mizzou's eyes.
Mississippi State is "Bullet" Bob Armstrong
Poor Mississippi State gets no respect. They're trapped in the toughest division in college football, the "other" school in their own state, and just plain behind the 8 ball. But they bust their butts under new head man Dan Mullen. Bullet Bob never got much due either, OWNING crowds all over the Southeast back in the territory days, but could never put it altogether while working for Crockett, a tad past his prime. "Bullet" chants were the norm wherever he wrestled, much like the cowbells follow State wherever they play. A second generation of Armstrongs found more success, particularly Brad and especially "Road Dogg." Perhaps the Bulldogs find some success of their own as their new generation begins under Mullen.
Georgia is Lex Luger
Oh yes. Lex Luger had it all when he came into the NWA, so much that he was nicknamed "The Total Package." He was groomed to be the next big star; he had the size, the look, the youth, and the charisma to be HUGE. And, for a multitude of reasons, it never quite panned out. Sounds like a football team in the SEC to me! Georgia has all the tools to be a football powerhouse. Beautiful campus, gorgeous women, prime access to the biggest city in the South, and a central location in the hottest recruiting region in the nation. And, for a multitude of reasons, it hasn't quite panned out. Luger could never get the big win over Flair. Georgia could never get the big win over Florida. Even in later years, when Luger finally did win the title (not over Flair), he pissed it away days later. And when UGA finally won an SEC Title (after losing to Florida), they were embarrassed by West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl. Luger could never shed the choker label. The Dawgs have to shake it now.
Texas A&M is Sting
Could A&M be the next marquee superstar in the SEC? They asked the same question about Sting and the NWA back in 1987 when he debuted as the hot, young rookie. It took neither long to make their marks. A&M upset defending national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa months into their first season in the league. Sting wrestled defending champion Ric Flair to a 45 minute draw months into his first year in the NWA - and would've won the match and the title if not for a crooked judge. Their instant success quickly dwarfed their prior homes, the Big XII for the Aggies and the UWF for the Stinger. Sting was always a tad naive, having been turned on by friends (unofficially) 874 times, usually Lex Luger or Ric Flair. Johnny Manziel hasn't exactly handled his new found fame with maturity, either, but both can get it done on their fields of battle. Sting was destined to be a multiple time World Champion, just as A&M seems destined to be the next superpower in the college football landscape.
Kentucky is The Mulkey Brothers
Every football conference needs its bottom feeders. Every wrestling company needs its jobbers. Whenever you see either of these teams, you know they're about to get their asses kicked, usually in highly entertaining fashion. I'm guessing the Mulkey boys were counting down til basketball season, too.
Paul Finebaum is Jim Cornette
The greatest shit-stirrers of their respective businesses. Cornette had a job - to manage the Midnight Express - but was always sticking his nose in where it wasn't needed to make the product more entertaining. Finebaum has a job - to host a radio show - but he pokes and prods his listeners (and callers) to make the product more entertaining.
Clay Travis is Bill Apter
Both operate independently of the business they cover. Both produce supplemental materials that aren't necessary to keeping up with what's going on, but certainly are interesting. Apter made magazines like Pro Wrestling Illustrated a household name, huge in the territorial days when you didn't know what was going on everywhere else. Travis has made himself a household name by giving his takes on the SEC thru a couple of books and his SEC-focused website. Some fans hate Travis for his takes on off-field silliness, while Apter's refusal to break kayfabe irritated fans for years.
Verne & Gary are Tony Schiavone & David Crockett
Duh. They might not be the best announcer tandems out there, but we love them anyway. If Verne calls out a player by the wrong name, drink. If Tony claims this to be the greatest night in the history of our sport, finish your drink.
Tim Brando is Jim Ross
If Verne is Schiavone, this makes Brando the not yet "Good Ol' J.R." Jim Ross. Brando's the voice-in-waiting for the SEC, much like Ross was obviously the next voice of the NWA. Hell, in that case...
Keith Jackson is Gordon Solie
The greatest. Everyone else is playing for second place.
Sixth Year Seniors returns in August.
My dad was in the Air Force. He got stationed at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery when I was in the fifth grade in October 1992. Moving from the Carolina coast to Alabama was, needless to say, a culture shock. We were "lucky" enough to move to the heart of the Southeastern Conference the same year that Gene Stallings coached one of the most ferocious defenses in college football history to an undefeated National Championship, capped off by a Crimson Tide 34-13 Sugar Bowl beatdown of Miami. While it was pretty cool to see all the locals (well, HALF the locals) all jazzed up about their school bringing home some hardware, it QUICKLY became evident that no matter how many games they won, how many trophies they captured, or how many scholarships they were stripped of due to NCAA probation, these people were not going to shut up about their football team.
The following summer, the Eric Ramsey case sent the state into mass hysteria, as Auburn got SLAMMED with NCAA sanctions. Nobody was safe, as even Auburn icon Pat Dye was ousted as head coach. For several months in 1993, unless your name was Jordan and you were in the process of winning a third consecutive NBA Title, nobody knocked Ramsey off the headlines of the Montgomery Advertiser sports page. The day after the probation came down, the paper had an entire section dedicated to the fallout. All the key figures involved, the intricacies of the various parts of the case, what it meant for Auburn (and Alabama) for the upcoming seasons.
Of course, Auburn, unable to play on television (I miss the TV probation days), leaving radio legend Jim Fyffe to narrate the Tigers' season, proceeded to go 11-0, upsetting Bama on the final day of the season, and staked a claim to a national title they were doomed to be denied of. In 1994, BOTH teams went undefeated (Auburn's winning streak was snapped by a 20-20 tie with Georgia) until Bama held on for a 21-14 win in Birmingham that propelled them back to the SEC Championship Game. Then the Antonio Langham case broke, and it was Auburn's turn to laugh at the Tide.
The lesson here, if you haven't figured it out yet, is that it doesn't stop. If there's not a national title to talk about, there's an SEC Title to talk about. If there's not an SEC Title to talk about, there's the Iron Bowl to talk about. And if the Iron Bowl - the rowdiest, craziest rivalry in sports - is down, as it has been since Cam Newton left The Plains, Bama fans will find someone else to snipe with.
The most recent target of those attacks? Texas A&M. But the Aggies aren't backing down, coming back at the Tide with some barbs of their own. A&M athletic director Eric Hyman dropped this gem earlier this week:
What do the moon and Texas A&M have in common? They both control the Tide"
Yes, there's already a shirt you can buy, too.
I love this. While Alabama was a difficult place to live at times, those same crazies who made it miserable so often would also provide me the entertainment to get thru those long, hot Alabama summers when it's too muggy to go outside and do much of anything. That SEC mentality is starting to creep into Texas behind the rise of Kevin Sumlin's Aggies. The A&M contingent, after having to deal with all the burnt orange in Texas for all these years, have ditched themselves of old baggage and have started anew in their new SEC home, and they've grasped the culture instantly.
September 14th can't get here soon enough.
Spoiler: You will get more takes from Mikey on the NWA U.S. Title scene from 1986 thru 1990 than you will on PAC-12 or Big Ten football.