A little more than two years ago, Electronic Arts released what would turn out to be the last of the NCAA Football series. A couple months later, the series was killed entirely. It never made it to the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.
The end was swift, but not unexpected. EA had become caught in the NCAA's battle over whether college athletes should be compensated. Technically, they did not include any actual players in their game, but the similarities were enough that they eventually had to pay $60 million to athletes who had appeared in their game.
However you feel about the actions of EA and the NCAA, though, it doesn't take away from the fact that the NCAA Football series was a very good football sim - better in some ways than even Madden. Its development team, some of them former athletes themselves, went out of their way to imbue their game with an atmosphere that is missed in its pro football counterpart. And for the most part, its modes were superior as well. Here's just a small list of what NCAA Football did well.
1. Better homefield advantage: The biggest stadiums would actually make the controller rumble and cause the routes to shake. In that regard, playing against a team like Alabama or Ohio State was actually intimidating.
2. Customizable high school leagues: NCAA Football understood that customization is king in sports sims. In one of its cooler touches, it was actually possible to make a fully customizable high school league for Road to Glory - the game's superstar mode. You could even go so far as to make them Pokémon gyms if you wanted. Amazing.
3. Coaching skill trees: In NCAA 14, it was possible to invest points in a limited skill tree to unlock buffs for your team. Why isn't this in any other sports sim? I have no idea. It makes way too much sense.
4. Scouting and recruiting: The final game of the series made some smart changes to scouting that allowed you to scout and recruit gems, making it much easier to build up smaller schools in the face of the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by the Alabamas of the world. Madden is still trying to come up with something as smart with its own scouting system.
Indeed, there was a lot to love about NCAA Football, especially if you preferred the college game to the professional version. That's not to say it was perfect, of course. Even compared to Madden, NCAA Football was often incredibly buggy, and its online leagues never really worked right. It also had a problem with really slow menus. It was ambitious, but also really sloppy.
Still, it was obvious that the development team cared passionately about college sports, and it had a lot of good dieas. It's a pity that those ideas ended up getting lost in the moral quagmire that is the NCAA.
It's doubtful that NCAA Football will ever come back. Even if it did, it would be very different, in all probability suffering as badly as NBA Live has. The degree of difficulty in developing sports games is incredibly high, and even established tech like EA's Ignite engine can't be implemented over night. Still, with luck Madden will look to its lost sibling for inspiration in the coming years.
For now, rest in peace, NCAA Football. You are missed.