Among the most anticipated releases in the video game world is that of EA Sports’ NCAA Football franchise. Each season, the game features the premiere college football player from the previous season.
This year, EA Sports decided to leave the decision of who would appear on the cover to the fans. They put it to a vote via their Facebook fan page
. Fans could choose from four worthy candidates—with one glaring omission.
The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, which goes to the nation’s best college football player, wasn’t among the candidates.
It just so happens that this player, Auburn’s Cam Newton, was involved in a pay-to-play scandal where it was determined that his father had requested $180,000 for his son to play at Mississippi State. It also came to light during the season that the reason Newton left Florida a couple of years ago (prompting the move to Auburn), involved another scandal in which he was arrested for stealing a laptop computer.
EA has previously put wrongdoers on its covers. Reggie Bush, who had to relinquish his 2005 Heisman Trophy after a similar pay-to-play scandal at USC, was on the NCAA Football 2007 cover. Michael Vick graced the cover of the company’s wildly successful Madden NFL Football series long before he was convicted of charges relating to animal cruelty.
So, was this a play by EA Sports to avoid paying a controversial (yet undeniably talented) athlete a hefty sum to appear on its cover?
Not exactly, according to EA Sports PR rep Rob Semsey.
In an e-mail sent Thursday night, he didn’t mention Newton specifically or respond directly to questions on whether he was left out of voting because his past. He did, however, offer this response:
“The selected finalists for the NCAA Football 12 “U Want ME’ campaign represent, not only some of the most prestigious college football programs in the nation, but also are amongst the best at their individual positions. Each player had a fantastic college football career that matches the dedication and high bar we set for the franchise.”
That explains it. Washington’s Jake Locker, not Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, was the best quarterback in the country last season.
I’ll spare you the statistical breakdown. I’ll spare you the details of how Locker, by staying in college, hurt his draft status this year with a subpar performance in 2010. I’ll only mention in passing that Newton led Auburn to the national championship.
My guess is that if Newton’s past were as squeaky clean as Locker’s—or that of any of the four players included in the voting—there would be no need for a vote at all.
But, if more allegations surface and in a couple years, he ends up disgracing his program the way Bush did, this will turn out to be a prime example of a public relations department that has lived and learned and ultimately made the right choice.