The Rise of Gridiron University: Higher Education's Uneasy Alliance with Big-Time Football

The Rise of Gridiron University: Higher Education's Uneasy Alliance with Big-Time Football

by Brian M. Ingrassia
     
 

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The quarterback sends his wide receiver deep. The crowd gasps as he launches the ball. And when he hits his man, the team's fans roar with approval—especially those with the deep pockets. Make no mistake; college football is big business, played with one eye on the score, the other on the bottom line. But was this always the case?

Brian M. Ingrassia here

Overview

The quarterback sends his wide receiver deep. The crowd gasps as he launches the ball. And when he hits his man, the team's fans roar with approval—especially those with the deep pockets. Make no mistake; college football is big business, played with one eye on the score, the other on the bottom line. But was this always the case?

Brian M. Ingrassia here offers the most incisive account to date of the origins of college football, tracing the sport's evolution from a gentlemen's pastime to a multi-million dollar enterprise that made athletics a permanent fixture on our nation's campuses and cemented college football's place in American culture. He takes readers back to the late 1800s to tell how schools embraced the sport as a way to get the public interested in higher learning—and then how football's immediate popularity overwhelmed campuses and helped create the beast we know today.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Ingrassia proves that the academy did not initially resist the inclusion of athletics; rather, progressive reformers and professors embraced football as a way to make the ivory tower less elitist. With its emphasis on disciplined teamwork and spectatorship, football was seen as a "middlebrow" way to make the university more accessible to the general public. What it really did was make athletics a permanent fixture on campus with its own set of professional experts, bureaucracies, and ostentatious cathedrals.

Ingrassia examines the early football programs at universities like Michigan, Stanford, Ohio State, and others, then puts those histories in the context of Progressive Era culture, including insights from coaches like Georgia Tech's John Heisman and Notre Dame's Knute Rockne. He describes how reforms emerged out of incidents such as a section of grandstands collapsing at the University of Chicago. He also touches on some of the problems facing current day college football.

The Rise of Gridiron University shows us where and how it all began, highlighting college football's essential role in shaping the modern university—and by extension American intellectual culture. It should have wide appeal among students of American studies and sports history, as well as fans of college football curious to learn how their game became a cultural force in a matter of a few decades.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This is an academic history of the establishment of big-time football within the university, covering the period from the 1820s to the 1930s. From the growth of physical culture through the 19th century, Ingrassia (history, visiting, Middle Tennessee State Univ.) traces the evolution of the concept of manliness from one of self-discipline to that of force and victory well exemplified on the gridiron. He observes that football evolved within the academic world at the same time that large American universities were making a push to stress research over teaching, and he writes that the popularity of the game was seen as a way to sell the ivory tower to the general population. However, many other academics saw the emphasis on lowbrow football as corrupting the mission of the university. That debate continues today, but Ingrassia maintains that the permanence of the game within academia, as circus or sideshow, was firmly established with the advance of professional coaches and the construction of concrete stadiums in the early 20th century. He also addresses the progressive era, militarism, sexism, racism, and the effects of the newer disciplines of psychology and social sciences in regard to this topic. VERDICT Although thoroughly researched, this book makes for very dry reading, which will limit its audience to specialists.—John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ. Lib., Camden, NJ
From the Publisher

"A must-read for those interested in the rise of big-time college football."—Great Plains Quarterly

“A major breakthrough in our understanding of the dynamics that drove American colleges and universities into an uneasy alliance with big-time football. No other book succeeds so well in revealing how football and other sports gained a special place within institutions of American higher education.” —Benjamin G. Rader, author of American Sports: From the History of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports

“An original and highly persuasive historical understanding of the origins of big-time football that reveals striking similarities between today’s controversies and those of the Progressive Era. Essential reading for anyone interested in why so many American universities engage in commercial sports.”—Charles T. Clotfelter, author of Big-Time Sports in American Universities

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780700618309
Publisher:
University Press of Kansas
Publication date:
01/24/2012
Series:
CultureAmerica Series
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Brian M. Ingrassia is visiting assistant professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University.

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