Patrick Hope: What is the legacy of NCAA Football?
College sports are a fundamentally different experience than their pro counterparts.
The rules are different. The atmosphere is different. And, as of a couple weeks ago, the video game experience is different.
Actually, in the case of the video game experience, the college one will no longer exist. EA Sports, the only producer of any sort of NCAA game, after settling its lawsuit with former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon, along with a bunch of other athletes, axed the NCAA Football series, and presumably the basketball counterpart as well, which saw its last release so long ago that it had Blake Griffin in a Sooners uniform on its cover.
So that's it.
The NCAA video games aren't taking a time out. They're just done. The genre will be no more. This is something that's largely unprecedented and merits a eulogy.
NCAA Football has amazingly been around since 1993 with its first release being Bill Walsh's College Football, which was released on the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and Sega CD. It didn't feature any actual team names. Instead, following the tradition of the Madden games that didn't have the NFL license, it used city names. There was some pretty hot action between Lincoln and Tallahassee.
By 1996, the game had the NCAA license and every team, and by the 1998 edition, it was the now-familiar NCAA Football.
Just as the NFL and NCAA are different, NCAA Football did its best to carve its own niche. It wasn't Franchise Mode, it was Dynasty Mode. There were bowl games. There were rivalry games like the Red River Shootout and the Civil War.
You could run crazy offenses that would, at least prior to last season, never work in the NFL like the fun 'n' gun and the option. Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit were your announcers. It was a fundamentally different experience. Nowhere was that more evident than in the nuts and bolts of the aforementioned Dynasty mode.
Just like in real college football, your virtual coach had to manage fan expectations, recruit players and try to build your program's prestige. If you play as a lower-tier program in NCAA, you better be ready to work hard to get to the top tier. My college roommates played as Louisiana-Lafayette (because Ragin' Cajuns for life, son) and top recruits didn't want to come there. So they made do with legions of high-speed guys without positions who only ran streak routes.
Then, the Ragin' Cajuns got themselves bumped up from the Sun Belt to the Big 12 and got more prestige and resources, and recruiting got way easier. There was always a real sense of progression. Seasons were connected. As the mode's name implied, you could actually build a dynasty and it was really satisfying in a much different way than creating a Super Bowl-winning juggernaut in Madden.
But that's all gone now.
While it's easy to point to the O'Bannon settlement as cause, it was really just the final straw. The NCAA was no longer going to license the game. The Big Ten and the Pac-12 had already pulled consent to use their names and logos, and it was rumored that Ohio State was going to be asking out of the game altogether. The $40 million that will have to be paid out to the O'Bannon plaintiffs pushed EA over the edge and resulted in the series being put on hiatus. It's not likely to ever be taken off.
So what is the legacy of NCAA Football?
It started as a companion series to Madden but evolved into its own beast. If you liked football, you were more than likely to get both games every year. It gave one last shout out to pro busts like Cade McNown and Joey Harrington, who managed to get themselves on game covers. And it just kind of imploded at the end.
So enjoy that last run to the BCS Championship Game. It's never going to happen again.