In 2255, Jack Herman V – the greatest college basketball coach of all-time – retired.
A 1,163-484 career record. Six NCAA titles, including four straight to close out his storied coaching career. Thirty-five Big Dance appearances. Numerous Coach of the Year awards.
No, I haven’t invented a time machine. Nor did this occur in my dreams. Rather, it happened after hours of play of Fast Break College Basketball, a text-based computer simulation to which I have dedicated hours of play.
Most of you are probably confused, so I’ll clarify.
Imagine a more realistic NCAA Football dynasty mode without actually playing the games. Or fantasy football without having to wait for Sunday. Or getting to question your favorite team’s coach or general manager without having to say “what if.”
Essentially, text sims offer the sports fan the chance to fulfill his ultimate dream – running his favorite team.
In pro games, you sign, draft and trade players just like in real life. In college games, you can recruit, set your schedule and even coax players into transferring.
In most cases there’s no graphics, and in all, you can’t actually pick up a controller and play the games. But through a series of complex calculations that I prefer not to think about, these games can spit out results. And unlike many sports video games, you can expect them to be realistic. You can sim years – even decades – in just hours and test every sort of combination you want.
Upset Isiah Thomas signed Jerome James? Try to clean up his mess in Total Pro Basketball.
Wondering what would happen if the Red Sox kept Babe Ruth? Reverse the curse in PureSim Baseball.
Want to revive football at death-penalty stricken Southern Methodist? Bring in your own Pony Express in Front Office Football: The College Years.
Sounds fun, no? Yet, despite the popularity of fantasy sports (one newspaper recently drafted fantasy high school football teams) and games like this in Europe (a soccer sim is the fastest-selling game of all-time in the United Kingdom), I don’t know of too many people here who have picked up the text-based sports sim.
Someone, somewhere has developed one for just about every athletic competition you desire. Just a sampling of the games I’ve played over the years include Baseball Mogul, Out of the Park Baseball, Championship Manager (soccer), Football Manager (soccer), Sick as a Parrot (soccer), Total Pro Basketball, Total College Basketball, Front Office Football, Bowl Bound College Football, Total Pro Golf, Eastside Hockey Manager and Title Bout Championship Boxing.
But Fast Break College Basketball 2003 is my favorite game ever.
Its simple-yet-complex game play is stunning. Every decision you make counts, and you can’t just take over for your point guard in a game’s waning minutes to joystick jockey your way to victory.
Tell your less-than-studious star center to hit the gym rather than the books over the summer, and he could get suspended come those do-or-die games in March. Sure you can recruit the five-star high schooler from the state next door, but he might go pro – and you might have already missed out on the solid, local kid who was dying to go to your school.
You can even see the fine-tuning of your team’s line-up and strategy in the results. Make small changes to the motion and pace, and it could have big effects in the game. I’ve started star freshman guards who have put up huge numbers, just to see my team lose games it should win. Replace a newcomer with the less talented but more experienced senior, however, and watch the veteran elevate the rest of his teammates to victory.
With the multitude of options, stats and histories at your disposal, it’s almost impossible not to become immersed. The reason Jack Herman V stands out so much in my mind is not how good he was, but rather how he became the first in a long line of Hermans to really honor Jack Herman, his great-great grandfather.
Jack Herman became a coaching legend after ascending the coaching ranks to bring his alma mater, Seton Hall, to glory. He started at perennial doormat UC-Riverside and after 19 seasons, he parlayed his success into jobs at Oakland, Central Michigan, Drake and finally, Seton Hall.
At the time, the Pirates were a low-level team in a big-time conference. Herman weathered a few bad years (the worst: 8-20, ouch), but eventually, his aggressive local recruiting and insistence on a tough schedule paid off. Seton Hall won its first-ever NCAA title 43 years into his career and took another four years later. In 2053, Herman retired after 50 years in the biz as one of the greatest coaches of all time.
But a series of disappointments came next. Jack Herman, Jr., began his career at Florida A&M and eventually landed at Seton Hall – now a national power. But after four years of letdowns, the Pirates fired Herman, Jr., who closed out his career at Big East rival Villanova, retiring with no NCAA titles, just one Final Four appearance to his name and a barely over .500 record.
Jack Herman III made a name for himself coaching, but he’ll always be remembered in the family like the whiz kid who decides to shun law or med school to teach high school, much to the chagrin of his parents.
At first he thought his job at Princeton was just another rung in the coaching ladder (he got it after years of solid coaching at Navy). But once the Tigers used his version of the motion offense to make an improbable run in the tournament to win the NCAA title, he could never bring himself to leave the tiny Ivy League school. Princeton never saw success like that again, but Herman III consistently turned down job offers from bigger schools out of loyalty.
Jack Herman IV led a life much like Junior. He worked his way to the Seton Hall job, but years of work went down the drain when an under-.500 season led to his firing. He further disgraced the family by taking the job at intrastate rival Rutgers and eventually left coaching as the NCAA’s all-time win leader, but without a national title.
And all that made Jack Herman V’s accomplishments so special. He ended his career with more wins, NCAA Titles, All-Americans and conference championships than anyone that preceded him. Sure it’s just a game, but I became more invested in it than any fantasy team I’ve ever coached (although not in the creepy “Universal Baseball Association sort of way).
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to get pretty excited about these games.
So the next time you get upset the Matt Millen just drafted another wide receiver, take a deep breath, pick up Front Office Football and fix things yourself.
Who knows, you might just get see your own dream turned into (somewhat) of a reality.
– Already play text sims? Herman wants to here your tales. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.