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Why has NCAA Football’s popularity exploded mid-pandemic?

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A dormant franchise is now selling for boatloads of cash on the secondary market.

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At the going rate, riding out your quarantine with EA’s NCAA ‘14 video game, the last of its college football franchise, will cost you about as much for the game as you’d pay for the entire console to play it on. Used game site Lukie currently has NCAA ‘14 in stock for both XBox 360 ($160) and PlayStation 3 ($130), making it one of the most expensive games for those platforms.

Per this handy chart of average eBay sale prices (compiled by Banner Society lead financial analyst Ryan Nanni), NCAA ‘14 has roughly tripled in price during the global pandemic:

So what’s going on? Neither the reverence for NCAA Football or the game’s fraught legal purgatory has changed since 2014. It’s as if everyone forced to slow down their lives remembered how much they miss this game when they had nothing else to do.

Six years ago, EA cancelled its college football series when it became the flashpoint for the ongoing debate over name, image, and likeness rights for college athletes during the O’Bannon v. NCAA trial. The game was a massive success by commercial standards, which is actually what killed it: NCAA was a glaring example of how to generate millions in revenue off of college athletes without compensating them in the process.

Otherwise, NCAA Football was a dream scenario for a game publisher: The audience drew both a wide pool of casual fans and a niche of devoted hardcores. The latter have hung on like hell after cancellation, creating meticulous in-game content updates to keep its final edition, NCAA ‘14, alive.

And while player NIL is now creeping towards reality and some possibility of the game’s return exists, there’s been no formal announcement that might re-engage fans or build new interest in the franchise.

Why The Game Is So Expensive, A Market Explanation.

Demand for NCAA ‘14 is pushing prices, but short supply is inflating cost: Because of the NIL saga, EA can’t currently sell the game on digital storefronts like Steam, XBox or Playstation. You can fire up your old 360 right now and buy almost any other EA Sports game digitally, but not NCAA.

It’s rare to see a widely produced video game this young become so expensive. But in just six years, the confluence of NCAA’s removal from digital stores and its no-show on modern consoles has created the same price tag in the secondary market as games with limited “collector’s edition” runs featuring art books or statues, or imported Japanese titles.

This was all before the industry moved to the latest systems after the NCAA franchise died. And since most gamers ditch hardware and physical copies of games as they migrate to new consoles, both the game discs and the means by which one can play it have been resigned to flea markets and online secondary sales.

Why The Game Is So Expensive, An Emotional Explanation.

Someone just paid $72 for a copy that was clearly listed as NOT WORKING. There is a passion in play here. People really want to play this game.

Things are bad for a lot of people in 2020. And a lot of those same folks have a sudden wealth of free time, combined with a nostalgia for any part of their life that isn’t right now. Alone, college sports and video games are recreational properties most everyone associates with a freer point of their lives. They’re addictions we’re proud of sharing recreationally, because we believe they’re social positives, if not identities.

Together they’re a nesting doll of tribalism. In the NCAA games you either showed your team colors or made your own in the game, and in doing so you joined with so many other people who stayed up till dawn to simulate a fake program’s BCS title ascent over a fake decade. It’s the kind of meaningless activity that becomes so powerfully meaningful when shared with others doing the same.

This video game let you control the destiny of your sports fandom and kill time during a period of your life when the former was the most serious concern you had, and the latter was to treat boredom, not fear.

I still have pristine copies of NCAA ‘13 and ‘14, along with a launch era PS3 to play it on. It’s the original model with the “Spider-Man” font that’s the size of a dishwasher and just as subtle in motion. On the off chance I play NCAA or the original “Red Dead Redemption” or “Kingdoms of Amalur,” the system gets suspiciously hot. You could heat on a pop-tart on it.

I also have three children under the age of six in my quarantine, so I have yet to relaunch my coaching career or play out a fictitious Heisman campaign or create Georgia Southern from scratch (the Eagles were not yet a FBS program when the NCAA franchise folded) and stomp ass with a triple option playbook as God and Erk Russell intended.

Honestly, though - I don’t play that often. I could easily sell this game for $150 or more. But sometimes I just turn it on and make Michigan go to Laramie to play Wyoming in the driving snow, the process of which fools my anxiety into believing Denard Robinson is the worst thing I’m facing.