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WVU football: Visit from WVU staff changes EA game

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - EA Sports will release NCAA Football 14 in July and the latest edition from its video game franchise features change influenced by a visit from West Virginia University football staff members last summer.

Director of Football Operations Alex Hammond and Coordinator of Recruiting Operations Ryan Dorchester were invited to Orlando last year to speak to the game's producers and designers about how to improve recruiting.

"It wasn't necessarily how you recruit a kid," Dorchester said in March. "That's hard. I don't know how you can really replicate that in a video game. A lot of it was saying, 'Here are some things that we feel aren't necessarily realistic in the video game and here's how those things happen in real life.' Understanding it can't exactly be simulated in a video game, we just wanted to give them an idea of what it was like on this side of the table."

The game's release date is July 9. EA Sports announced improvements to the game's Dynasty mode Tuesday and the Mountaineers' fingerprints are all over certain aspects.

Dorchester and Hammond stressed the value of managing the time and effort spent on a prospect and how teams need to allocate those resources to make sure they can address quality and quantity in recruiting. Producer Ben Haumiller said it led to an "overhaul" of the week-to-week recruiting function.

"We have now streamlined the recruiting experience so that your main function as the coach is to take a bulk of points each week and determine how you want to distribute them throughout the players you are targeting," he said. "After you've set the number of points you want to apply to a prospect you just manage their recruitment by adding or re-allocating points from week to week."

EA Sports was looking to modernize recruiting and make it more realistic. Hammond and Dorchester identified certain parts of the game that were not like what they encounter in their jobs. Haumiller and producer/designer Christian McLeod took those suggestions and applied them to different parts of recruiting in the game.

Haumiller said the additions complement what worked before, specifically scouting players and conducting visits on campus and at a prospect's home. Hammond and Dorchester convinced EA Sports to revisit the concept of on-campus visits.

"Previously there really wasn't much strategy as to when you scheduled a prospect to come on a visit," Haumiller said. "You did get a boost for bringing a prospect to a rivalry game, but you could bring in anyone you wanted for that game without worrying about how many players at a particular position were coming in that week."

Hammond and Dorchester explained that the game needed to allow for the difference between a "competitive" visit and a "complementary" visit. Both can affect recruiting and EA Sports was convinced to make the change.  

"So now you will want to space out when your quarterbacks visit, as bringing in two or more will cause a 'competitive' visit and will lower the number of points that can be awarded for the visit," Haumiller said. "'Complementary' visits occur when you bring in, say, a quarterback, a wide receiver and an offensive lineman in the same week. By helping to give them a feel for who their teammates might be at the positions that are crucial for their success, each of those prospects will receive a boost to the number of points they can earn in a visit."

Who visits wasn't the sole concern voiced by WVU's football staff members. They explained the value of timing and why it's important to play host to a prospect as late as possible. Early visits are often forgotten or masked by later visits to other schools. Late visits create a lasting impression.

EA Sports decided it was important to reward a school for being the last place a prospect visited.

"You will receive an additional bonus if you are the last of the prospect's five official visits," Haumiller said. "The fourth visit will have a smaller bonus, the third visit smaller, and so on. So you have to weigh the strategy of scheduling late in the year to get that bonus and risk having the prospect commit elsewhere before the visit happens or do the visit as early as possible if you don't think you will make it to the end of the season before the prospect makes his decision."

Haumiller said WVU's impact might not be solely limited to this season and that EA Sports is still figuring out how to address other suggestions in future versions of the game. Hammond and Dorchester explained many other variables: how the success of a season and coaching changes can affect a prospect's decision, that academics and eligibility are a major factor the game doesn't touch and how junior college players have a place because they're more physically ready to play than most freshmen.  

While those changes may be reserved for the future, EA Sports will acknowledge WVU's assistance within the new game.

"I think it shows that what we do in recruiting is interesting and relevant to people who bring the world of recruiting to a mainstream use," Hammond said.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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