Column: No time for game time in SEC football

By By Will Bardwell / staff writer
July 30, 2004
What has happened to America's college students?
When I was in college, the three most important things in my life were my schoolwork, my social life and my Playstation 2 and not in that order.
I wasn't alone, either. Most everyone either owned or had easy access to a video game console.
And it wasn't just my age group. Before the Playstation 2, it was the Playstation. Before that, the Super Nintendo. And before that, the granddaddy of them all, the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
Video games have helped college students lower both stress and grade point averages for 20 years. I myself spent countless hours sitting in front of a TV, thumbs a-blazin' and brain a-rottin' throughout my four years of higher education.
All you recent high school graduates who will be leaving home soon, listen up. A typical day of college life includes waking up, eating, going to class (sometimes), napping and playing video games. That model for success guided me for four glorious years, and it can do the same for you. Just be sure to talk your parents out of $200 or so before you leave for school.
I figured students would follow my slothful lead for years to come.
Maybe I was wrong.
The arrival of Southeastern Conference Football Media Days, a giant media gathering in late July, is an annual sign to fans that football season is close at hand. For video game addicts, though, it is a second (and, in some minds, less important) sign. The first arrives in mid-July the release of Electronic Arts' new college football video game.
This year's version, "NCAA Football 2005," is the best yet. The improvements made on the game in just the last five years are amazing. Players used to be little more than colorful, animated wads of triangles and diamonds. But now, with its state-of-the-art graphics and sound, along with entertaining color commentary, a game of "NCAA Football" is easy to confuse for a real, televised football game.
When I was in college, summers were broken up into two portions. The first portion began in May and ended in July with the annual release of "NCAA Football." This segment of the summer consisted of drinking lots of coffee, going to class far too often, and going into convulsions every now and then due to lack of gameplay.
After the game's release, the second portion of summer began. It consisted of skipping the rest of summer school to stay at home and play the game.
I was certain this way of life continued to this day. And so, seeking a fun interview on Wednesday, I scoured the SEC Football Media Days event in Birmingham, Ala., searching for a student-athlete who had spent the previous 72 hours in front of his Playstation 2.
I found no one. No one who had played the game. No one who showed any interest at all in playing the game.
Take Eric Oliver, for example. Oliver, a standout free safety at Ole Miss, led his team in tackles in 2002 and 2003. He loves to talk trash and compete against others, including his own teammates from time to time.
I just knew he'd been spending night after night with controller in hand, so I asked him what he thought of the game. He smiled and politely told me he hadn't played it.
He couldn't be serious. Hoping to spur conversation, I recoutned a story in which Rebels wide receiver Bill Flowers got his hands on a copy of "NCAA Football 2003" a couple of summers ago, when he was entering his sophomore season. He was young and fairly unexperienced at the time, so EA Sports created a much slower digital version of Flowers than the real version of Flowers. The Red Rocket spent the next week or so cursing the game makers under his breath.
Oliver smiled, listened politely to my story, nodded and remained absolutely uninterested in every word that slipped past my lips. Sorry, he said. He hadn't played it.
Granted, I was only in Birmingham for one of the media event's three days. And granted, I didn't get to ask everyone there. Maybe I should've stuck around until Thursday, when South Carolina faced the hordes of reporters. I hear Lou Holtz is addicted to the game, and that he frequently calls his
next-door neighbor at 2 a.m. to challenge him to a virtual South Carolina-Clemson matchup.
Okay, not really. Or, at least, probably not. I mean, it seems unlikely, but it also seems unlikely that college football players would overlook a chance to glue themselves to a video game in which they are characters! Think about it! How many hit video games have you been in lately? Probably none since "Dentist Wars" or "The Adventures of Paper Pusher," huh?
Could it be that today's student-athletes simply have better things to do?
What is the world coming to?

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