The Legend of NCAA Football 14
Sports video games are in a tough spot. Most series have no real competition - Madden, NBA2K, NHL, FIFA and MLB The Show all dominate their markets - and those that try to enter the market either rely on gimmicky gameplay or get pushed out almost immediately. The connections and licensing agreements to professional sports leagues that these games rely on are expensive and exclusive, so once one group has it, there’s rarely another viable option (NBA Live is the most recent franchise to attempt to make a comeback, but it doesn’t seem likely it will overtake 2K anytime soon). Released on a yearly basis, true improvements rarely come from one year to the next, but as developers and companies spend nearly their entire focus on the most recent release, the games become outdated incredibly quickly. With the next generation of consoles being released relatively soon, this could change, but the cycle looks too strong to break. However, one sports game has stood the test of time, even as the series around it have moved on to greater graphics and more innovations: NCAA Football 14.
Released on July 9th, 2013, NCAA 14 was seemingly just another game in the incredibly successful NCAA Football franchise that Electronic Arts (EA) would release every summer. With Michigan legend Denard Robinson on the cover, it had all the staples of the series: a Dynasty mode, every Division 1 FBS team represented, Road to Glory, the game modes that fans had come to love. Along with the good stuff, it was also plagued by multiple issues such as sketchy online, repetitive animation and commentary, and some unexplainable glitches, but it was not enough to stop the game from selling over a million copies. At the time, this was commonplace for the NCAA series, and it was expected that the next release would see similar sales and critical response, but the next release never came.
The most glaring issue with the NCAA series was always that EA could never use the true rosters of teams due to the amatuer status of the athletes. Instead, they filled out rosters with players that resembled the true athletes they took the place of, but would be named by their position and number. For example, Texas A&M’s quarterback is a speedy, white guy with a good arm and is an absolute terror to play against. Within the game he is known as QB #2, but it is obviously Johnny Manziel. It wasn’t perfect, but fans didn’t care. Smart players knew that if they waited a few days, someone would have uploaded the rosters with the actual names to the online database that could be downloaded within the game, and not having the names was never a problem after that for consumers. On the other hand, EA and the NCAA quickly found itself on the wrong side of a lawsuit due to these rosters. Turns out, making players in a game that look and play exactly as actual athletes is still using their likeness for a profit, who knew? Once the lawsuit was settled and athletes were paid the money they rightfully deserved, instead of trying to find another workaround EA decided to simply shut down the series, leaving NCAA 14 as the last of its kind.
As the next summer rolled around, fans of the series came to grips with the reality that there would truly be no new game for them to sink $60+ into, but the desire to play hand not gone away. So, they fired up NCAA 14 again. And again. And again. To this day there has never been another NCAA game released, but people are still playing ‘14 on a regular basis. EA stopped printing new copies multiple years ago so used copies are the only surefire way to get hands on the beloved game, but good luck finding a usable disc under $50 anywhere online, most going for far more. XBox 360 and PS3 consoles sell for less than a single copy of NCAA 14. What was once just another average sports game has turned into one of the most sought after discs of its console generation. It’s extended life cycle can be attributed to many things, including a dedicated community of roster-builders that meticulously build teams, coaches, and recruits, posting them to the database for all to use, and it might be more popular now than ever before.
Last weekend, over 150,000 people watched Barstool Sports’ Big Cat play as head coach Gus Duggerton of the Tenneesee Volunteers in the 2018 National Championship. More viewers than the entire capacity of Neyland Stadium witnessed Big Cat bring the natty back to Knoxville (#FeelsLike98) and the front page of Twitch was dominated by NCAA 14 for the first time ever. On a site that is usually controlled by far more recent or recognizable releases such as League of Legends, Fortnite, and Call of Duty: Warzone, having a seven-year old sports game at the top is incredibly rare. Big Cat and Barstool are very famous on the internet, but other massively notable streamers won’t even come close to those numbers on a good night of streaming. NCAA 14 attracts viewers because of the personal connection an entire generation of fans has to the game itself, and seeing others struggle and triumph in the same game is irresistible.
Whether another NCAA Football game will ever be released is still unknown. Fans are hopeful, as is EA with executive Peter Moore stating the series “will be back”, but the NCAA, the athletes, and EA would all have to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. Things are trending in the direction that collegiate athletes are going to be able to make money off their likeness relatively soon, but this is just one piece of the much larger puzzle. In the meantime, fans will keep their older consoles around to continue their dynasties and make new Road to Glory players for years to come. And if NCAA Football 20__ ever does come out, let’s hope it can even come close to the years of enjoyment ‘14 brought through the years.