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In this compellingly argued and deeply personal book, respected sports historian Michael Oriard—who was himself a former second-team All-American at Notre Dame—explores a wide range of trends that have changed the face of big-time college football and transformed the role of the student-athlete.
Oriard considers such issues as the politicization of football in the 1960s and the implications of the integration of college football. The heart of the book examines a handful of decisions by the NCAA in the early seventies—to make freshmen eligible to play, to lower admission standards, and, most critically, to replace four-year athletic scholarships with one-year renewable scholarships—that helped transform student-athletes into athlete-students and turned the college game into a virtual farm league for professional football.
Oriard then traces the subsequent history of the sport as it has tried to grapple with the fundamental contradiction of college football as both extracurricular activity and multi-billion-dollar mass entertainment. The relentless necessity to pursue revenue, Oriard argues, undermines attempts to maintain academic standards, and it fosters a football culture in which athletes are both excessively entitled and exploited.
As a former college football player, Oriard brings a unique perspective to his topic, and his sympathies are always with the players and for the game. This original and compelling study will interest everyone concerned about the future of college football.
Posted September 19, 2010
I did a review of this book which will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Sport Management. Here are a few excerpts:
In the final chapter of his most recent book, Bowled over: Big time college football from the sixties to the BCS era (2009), Michael Oriard bluntly states that "proposing reforms for big-time college football is a fool's task" (p. 233). Make no mistake, Oriard, professor of American Literature and Culture at Oregon State University and a former football player at the University of Notre Dame and with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, is no fool when it comes to contemplating the nature of the intercollegiate athletics enterprise.
Bowled over is Oriard's fourth book focusing on the role and importance of football in the intercollegiate athletics landscape and American culture at large. His earliest title, The end of Autumn (1982, reprinted in 2009), is a memoir that traces his life as a football player at all levels. Two previous works, Reading football (1993) and King football (2001) examined the symbiotic relationship between the media and intercollegiate football, and how each benefitted and influenced the other through their connections. These two latter titles are among the most detailed and insightful sources for understanding the emergence of intercollegiate football as a significant component of the American cultural landscape. In the "Introduction" to Bowled Over, Oriard describes this evolution as "a tortuous working out of the sport's fundamental contradiction of being, at one in the same time, a commercial spectacle and an extracurricular activity" (p. 2).
It is in Chapter 5, "Opportunity, entitlement and exploitation," where Oriard provides the typical and oft-cited laundry list of ills facing the sport (for example, the criminal behavior of players, and the entitlement players demonstrate after years of coddling). It is from this list that Oriard culls what he calls "the most urgent question of all": whether schools are making good on their "contractual obligation to provide an education in return for athletic services?" (p. 202). His attempts to address this question lead Oriard to the final chapter, "Thinking about reform." He suggests what might be done to improve the current state of the intercollegiate football enterprise so that current participants may have as beneficial college experience as did he, all the while acknowledging that "college football has had no golden age" [p. 203]). But this proves to be, as we were warned, a thorny task. For example, he at once lauds the Academic Progress Rate (APR) system for having "real and consequential" impacts for noncompliance (p. 183), while remarking that while the system puts pressure on athletic departments to comply, it may have no actual benefit for participants. He then states, in underscoring his possible folly, that "it would seem perverse to criticize athletic departments for neglecting their athletes' academic welfare, then criticize them for throwing too much money at the solution" through the recent expansion of academic support services at Division I BCS schools" (p.184).