Unveiled in 2013, Oregon's Football Performance Center should stand the test of time. (John W. McDonough/SI)
By Martin Rickman
The year is 2063. College football as we know it is no more, and all the remnants of that world have been replaced with artificial intelligence playing a game that can’t really be explained in the context of 2013. Just picture knockout crossed with tetherball and a bit of golf on a 500-yard field.
Oh, and there’s contact. Plenty of contact.
Because in 2063, the human element of the sport is gone. No more debilitating injuries. No more head injuries causing people to lose precious memories or the ability to lead peaceful, quiet lives after careers playing the game they love. It’s quite nice, actually. You’d like it, Pop. You should see what they call “The Monsoon”; it’s like every great kick returner we used to watch, except it kind of looks like a kangaroo.
The game is called Sport3000. We’re not as creative as we used to be when it comes to naming stuff. Once the iPhone 500 came out, people just kind of gave up. They put Sport3000's headquarters in an old college football facility, the last of its kind. You remember when Oregon built its Football Performance Center? It’s there. I know, right? That thing was so far ahead of its time that it has become a symbol for the past and future of the game we used to sit and watch on the couch for so many years.
Video: Inside Oregon's brand new football complex
They took the coach’s office and turned it into a War Room, so to speak. They control all the robots from there. Every Sport3000 game gets pre-populated and prepped at the same desk Mark Helfrich sat behind during his first season as the Ducks' head coach. And wouldn’t you know it, De’Anthony Thomas went on to become the first commissioner of the league. They call him “The Deer.”
(Don't know why they had to go and tear down that grotto, though. It’s a wine cellar now.)
The games get played in the old movie theater in the building -- well, not so much played as the humans who control the robots make their moves there. The projector screen has a bunch of symbols and future moves in a queue, and the players essentially roshambo while the robots receive the commands and react accordingly. There’s still human error (and human officials; we never could quite get over that), and the robots sometimes go rogue and disregard play calls. Even AI craves glory and endorsement deals.
Photos: SI's behind-the-scenes look at Oregon's facility
It’s funny, I hardly recognize the game and the world around us, but it looks like they’re all just playing a big version of Risk the way they form alliances and argue as the robots beat the (robot) snot out of each other.
I wish I could give you a tour of the building the way it looks now. It’s just as beautiful as it was the day they unveiled the photos. The front lobby looks a bit different; the black slate didn't work out; it just kept scuffing. There’s even talk of installing a museum, which would be great as long as it includes an exhibit about that one time Wake Forest won the ACC. That was wild.
Oh, and I meant to tell you: the barbershop is still there. You didn’t think the future was completely different, did you?
Miss you, Dad.
THOMSEN: Oregon unveils state-of-the-art Football Performance Center