BLOOMINGTON – In late April, Mark Skirvin came to Andrew Mascharka with a job no one had tackled in at least eight years.
Skirvin, IU’s senior assistant athletic director for marketing, needed Mascharka to carve out some time between the women’s basketball postseason and football spring practice to take a checklist with him to Memorial Stadium, and snap what turned out to be about 800 photos.
Stills, panoramic shots, even full 360-degree spins, from yard lines on both sides of and including the 50-yard line. Mascharka needed to capture the stadium from a variety of depths, and multiple specific angles, for shot after shot on the incredibly detailed list Skirvin provided. Mascharka, IU Athletics’ director of photography, needed to add shots of anything unique inside the stadium, like Hep’s Rock, the sweeping five-story press box and the distinctive twin spires of IU’s North End Zone facility.
Skirvin needed everything by April 15. That was the hard deadline he’d been given to turn all the photos over to Electronic Arts, as part of the video game giant’s revival of one of its oldest — and most longed for — game series: “NCAA Football.”
“They were very specific. They had a sheet that basically guided us through what they needed,” Mascharka told IndyStar. “They’re focused on making this as detailed and accurate as possible.”
EA’s NCAA football franchise — which began as “Bill Walsh College Football” before evolving into its more modern vintage — was at its peak among the most popular sports-based video games in the country. Even now, eight years after it was discontinued in part due to legal concerns over likeness usage, game users annually produce and share detailed rosters for every team in the game, downloadable so long as a gamer has an “NCAA 14” disc, an Xbox 360 (college sports games were not made backwards compatible) and an Internet connection.
What prompted the discontinuation of “NCAA Football,” and other college sports video games like “College Hoops 2K,” is the same thing that now opens the door for its return.
Perhaps the most prominent early challenge to the NCAA’s ban on athlete compensation actually sprang from a video game, when former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon realized his likeness was still being used in college basketball games long after his career ended. O’Bannon asserted he should share in any profit from such usage.
From 2009, when his lawsuit was filed, through today, O’Bannon v. NCAA has remained among the most recognizable challenges to the NCAA’s athlete compensation policy. It birthed a variety of further legal actions, some of which hastened the adoption of name, image and likeness reform last year.
EA’s original franchise died after the 2014 iteration, as the NCAA and other entities backed away from licensing agreements in an increasingly tenuous legal climate.
With NIL now allowable — and state law in some cases — a closed door is now opening again. On Feb. 2, 2021, five months before NIL activity officially became legalized, EA tweeted a picture of a confetti-strewn football field, with the message, “For those who never stopped believing, College Football is coming back.”
The long-awaited relaunch is scheduled for July 2023.
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There remain a variety of hurdles to restarting the franchise, not least among them organizing licensing agreements with any and all athletes involved. In some cases, schools’ athletes have already entered group licensing arrangements that could speed the process, but the broader effort likely remains complicated.
What EA has asked of the schools has been detail — as much as humanly possible.
“They gave us a whole bunch of guidelines,” Mascharka said. “They wanted as close of a render as they could get.”
That involved the long, detailed checklist including shots from specific yard-lines, points in the stadium and angles of an empty Memorial Stadium. Mascharka needed in some cases to get the same shot from 22.5 degrees and 45 degrees, for example, with EA specifying 21 locations around the field it would need to complete its rendering.
Additionally, the company asked for those stadium-specific landmarks, to add depth to their reconstruction. Mascharka said designers even asked for small notes, like the placement of a storm drain near the field, to get even the finest details in their final render.
“Then they needed us to go capture the important spots in the stadium,” he said, “to make sure they make it in as well.”
Concurrently, IU Senior Associate AD for Strategic Communications Jeremy Gray compiled a similarly detailed list of potential sound effects specific to Memorial Stadium. What music the band should play on first down as opposed to third down, for example, or whether it would do something different after a touchdown as compared to following an extra point. Additionally, the company wanted crowd reactions and traditions — e.g. IU’s first-down march — all to build as realistic of a recreation as possible.
Gathering all this information is a key part of the process of restarting the franchise, which had developed a strong reputation for its attention to detail. All of it gives EA ample time to build out those renderings and game day recreations, as schools across the country provide the same information IU did.
For fans, it’s yet another welcome step toward getting “NCAA Football” back up and running again, potentially within the next year.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.