College Football

10 reviews on a popular American sport.

Bain-Selbo, Eric. Game day and God: football, faith, and politics in the American South. Mercer University, 2009. 253p ISBN 0881461555, $35.00; ISBN 9780881461558, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2001

This book joins other Mercer University Press titles that take the position that sport (in this case football in the American South) is religion—a point of view this reviewer finds naïve and simplistic. Bain-Selbo’s use of quotations of major theologians to prove this point is disingenuous. Though the careful reader will not conclude as Bain-Selbo (philosophy and religion, Western Kentucky Univ.) does, the author does provide interesting information from which one can conclude that football in the South is part of civil religion (the strongest—and longest—chapter addresses this subject). But to say that violence in football “has some merit and some beauty” (p. 68) is sheer foolishness. And to claim that the sport, in the South, “nourishes the soul” (p. 239) is tragic and unfortunate. Those interested in this subject should seek out Tom Krattenmaker’s Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks into Pulpits and Players into Preachers (CH, Feb’10, 47-3229), with its critique of a “match made in hell” (the match being between religion and sport). The present title can be commended only as a source of information about football in the South, and in that regard it is a gold mine. Summing Up: Optional. Graduate students and researchers. —G. H. Shriver, Georgia Southern University

College athletes’ rights and well-being: critical perspectives on policy and practice, ed. by Eddie Comeaux. Johns Hopkins, 2017. 220p bibl index ISBN 9781421423852, $34.95; ISBN 9781421423869 ebook, $34.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2018

With ongoing legal action and mounting social activism challenging the current NCAA model of college sport in the US, the release of this volume could hardly be more timely. Comeaux (Univ. of California, Riverside) brings together contributions from leading scholars and professionals to examine college sports policy and practice from historical, legal, financial, labor, and academic perspectives. The text is organized into four sections, tackling in turn the history of college sports, NCAA and member institutions’ policies, the commercialization of college sport, and the well-being of athletes. The information from the first two sections has been covered elsewhere, but the latter half of the book sets it apart from others in its category—it explores the troubling problems that accompany the commercialization of college sport. The text could have considered the problems of commercialization with a broader lens, addressing issues relating to gender and injury in addition to its coverage of issues minority males confront. Though its treatment is not as comprehensive as this reviewer would have liked, this volume still makes an excellent resource for auxiliary reading in any course that studies the sociological or cultural impacts of college sport in the US. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —R. D. Sheptak Jr., Baldwin Wallace University

Gaul, Gilbert M. Billion-dollar ball: a journey through the big-money culture of college football. Viking, 2015. 249p index ISBN 9780670016730, $27.95; ISBN 9780698142916 ebook, $13.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2016

In Billion-Dollar Ball investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Gilbert Gaul tackles the subject of big-time college football. Given the plethora of athletic scandals and outrages on campuses in the 21st century, the subject is low-hanging fruit, but the author acquits himself nicely in indicting almost everyone mired in this modern-day, cottage-industry-turned-entertainment-complex swamp. Delving into the sordid details behind familiar headlines and jaw-dropping accounts, and offering comparisons across a wide range of colleges and universities, the seven chapters (bearing such enticing titles as “Why the South Lost the War but Wins at Football”) provide a readable smackdown. The book’s shortcomings are also evident. Reporters do what reporters do—rely on interviews and news accounts, without necessarily supplementing their narratives with information gleaned from more academic, reasoned perspectives—and this book includes neither footnotes nor biography. Thus the book is airplane and beach reading, not grist for scholars’ mills. The addition of another 50–100 pages to include men’s basketball in the mix would have easily passed a benefit-cost test. And treating the nexus of college football and the NFL would have been invaluable. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and professionals. —A. R. Sanderson, University of Chicago

Gubar, Justine. Fanaticus: mischief and madness in the modern sports fan. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. 232p bibl index afp ISBN 9781442228924, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2016

This history of the fanaticism of sports fans is easy to read and disturbing. Gubar, a producer for ESPN and an award-winning investigative journalist, wrote the book after Ohio State University fans, angry with her role in exposing rule violations by members of the football team, harassed her. A sports fan herself, Gubar understood the intensity of emotion that sports evokes but was intrigued by the shift from cheering to violence. In the book she traces violent fan behavior from supporters of ancient Roman charioteers through European soccer hooligans to today’s couch-burning US fans. The list of bibliographic references is long and cites leading scholars in sports history, sports sociology, and sports management. Most of the references within the text, however, are to interviews with those scholars, which in itself is interesting. Gubar demonstrates that sports fans throughout time and across geography have been incredibly badly behaved. This is a troubling history of fan violence, which has resulted in numerous deaths and unimaginable financial costs. Although Gubar offers some explanatory theories (fans care too much; alcohol fuels irrational behavior), she contends that sports itself seems to support the violence. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; students in two-year programs; professionals; general readers. —S. K. Fields, University of Colorado-Denver

Guiliano, Jennifer. Indian spectacle: college mascots and the anxiety of modern America. Rutgers, 2015. 175p bibl index ISBN 978081356555-2, $80.00; ISBN 9780813565545 pbk, $27.95; ISBN 9780813572741 ebook, $27.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2015

Historian Guiliano’s clearly written and carefully argued book is a welcome addition to both scholarly and popular debates about the cultural appropriation of American Indian images as sports mascots. Her six well-conceived chapters guide readers through the world of college football. Guiliano (Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ. Indianapolis) argues that for much the 20th century, the hyper-masculine world of college football was inhabited by racist and racialized images of Indian mascots. These often crude images of the “Red Man” presented both stadium and television supporters with a “nostalgic antimodernism” that safely confined indigenous masculinity to the cultural realm of symbolism. Using detailed case studies of the Universities of Illinois and North Dakota, Stanford University, Florida State, and Miami University of Ohio, Guiliano demonstrates this point; she also highlights how universities used racialized Indian mascots to increase their brand recognition throughout the 20th century. Scholars of cultural history, American Indian studies, and ethnic studies will find this book particularly useful, and the general reading public will find Guiliano’s narrative revelatory. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —G. D. Smithers, Virginia Commonwealth University

Ingrassia, Brian M. The rise of gridiron university: higher education’s uneasy alliance with big-time football. University Press of Kansas, 2012. 322p ISBN 9780700618309, $34.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2012

Ingrassia (history, Middle Tennessee State Univ.) offers a fresh perspective on the origins of big-time college football. Other scholars have produced works on the same subject, for example, Ronald Smith in Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics (CH, Apr’89, 26-4533) and Robin Lester in Stagg’s University: The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago (CH, Feb’96, 33-3385). Ingrassia’s book stands apart because of its focus on the role of faculty in the development of big-time college football. As he persuasively argues, faculty in the late-19th and early-20th centuries “institutionalized athletics” and played a key role in giving athletics a “permanent place on college campuses.” He credits social scientists with providing a theoretical framework used to justify both the existence of intercollegiate football programs and efforts to reform them. Ingrassia links the construction of football stadiums and the proliferation of formal academic departments devoted to athletics to the academic justifications for football programs. His study ends in the post-WW I era, a time when faculty attitudes toward athletics soured, yet faculty largely lacked the power to eliminate big-time programs from their campuses. Ingrassia’s intriguing, insightful book makes an important contribution to the literature on intercollegiate athletics. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals; general readers. —C. M. Smith, Cabrini College

Martin, Charles H. Benching Jim Crow: the rise and fall of the color line in southern college sports, 1890-1980. Illinois, 2010. 374p ISBN 0252035518, $95.00; ISBN 0252077504 pbk, $30.00; ISBN 9780252035517, $95.00; ISBN 9780252077500 pbk, $30.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2011

Martin (history, Univ. of Texas, El Paso) begins this comprehensive examination of the slow process of desegregating college sport in the US with the 1890s, when colleges affirmed their gentlemen’s agreement to ban integrated sporting competition. After acknowledging the complicity of northern colleges that agreed not to play their own black players against southern teams, the author examines the process of athletic integration at the historically white colleges and universities in the South. He argues that the integration of athletic teams, although it created problems like racial stereotyping, remains to this day the most successful example of integration in the South. Martin explores the process of integration at more than 40 institutions and in the region’s three major conferences of the era, the Atlantic Coast Conference (basketball and football), the Southwest Conference (football), and the Southeastern Conference (basketball and football). He provides moving descriptions of individual athletes who braved open hostility and threats of violence and of the coaches who insisted that the teams be integrated. And he is masterful in weaving all this material into the broader social history of the South. The result is an impressive, profound piece of scholarship. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —S. K. Fields, Ohio State University

Montez de Oca, Jeffrey. Discipline and indulgence: college football, media, and the American way of life during the Cold War. Rutgers, 2013. 174p ISBN 9780813561271, $75.00; ISBN 9780813561264 pbk, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2014

Sociologist Montez de Oca (Univ. of Colorado at Colorado Springs) portrays how modern sports produced a masculine culture that fused with a rising economy that developed from Cold War politics. At the time, the US was a world leader, and it was also a time for American hopefulness. The author analyzes the relationships between sport, militarism, and US nationalism in very compelling ways, breaking new ground in the understanding of everyday social organization and significance. He uses college football to highlight these relationships, which began with live television broadcasts that transformed college football into a broadly viewed spectator sport. This live media provided a place where males could be united citizens of the Cold War state. In assessing the Cold War era and the linkage between sport, media, and militarism, Montez de Oca draws parallels and makes connections to present sports media and today’s war on terror. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students and above, as well as those interested in sport during the Cold War era. —M. E. Beagle, Berea College

Oriard, Michael. Bowled over: big-time college football from the sixties to the BCS era. North Carolina, 2009. 334p ISBN 9780807833292, $30.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2010

Dozens of popular histories of college football appear every year, but only a few academic presses have offered scholarly treatment of the subject. In the latter category are, for example, Kurt Edward Kemper’s College Football and American Culture in the Cold War Era (2009) and John Sayle Watterson’s College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy (CH, Oct’01, 39-1005). The present title is much more focused than Watterson’s. Oriard (American literature and culture, Oregon State Univ.) concentrates on the major events and trends of the past half century, as opposed to the entirety of the sport’s history. He recounts the integration of southern football, the radicalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s and its effect on college football, the professionalization of the sport, and reform efforts aimed at various aspects of college athletics. A critical component of the book is Oriard’s analysis of the controversial Bowl Champion Series (BCS) system, begun in 1998. Taking advantage of a decade of hindsight, Oriard looks at the “arms race” of ever-increasing coaches’ salaries, palatial athletic complexes, and the growing revenue divide between the have and have-not programs. A solid resource for those interested in the culture of sport. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —B. D. Singleton, California State University—San Bernardino

Schultz, Jaime. Moments of impact: injury, racialized memory, and reconciliation in college football. Nebraska, 2016. 198p bibl index afp ISBN 9780803245785, $40.00; ISBN 9780803285033 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2016

Schultz (kinesiology, Pennsylvania State Univ.) explores her concept of “racialized memory” while tracing the histories of Jack Trice, Ozzie Simmons, and Johnny Bright. All three were African American football players at Iowa universities in the first half of the 20th century who suffered serious injuries from brutal hits during games, hits that may have been racially motivated. Shultz tells not simply the tales of these men; she examines how commemoration and memory of the incidents is complex and infused with race. For example, Iowa State University (where Trice played) had a protracted debate about renaming the stadium after Trice (1902-23), whose injuries resulted in his immediate death. In 1997, 74 years after his death and 26 years after students began agitating for renaming, the stadium was renamed Jack Trice Stadium. Schultz carefully traces the broader context in which the debate occurred. Although versions of the primary chapters have been previously published, Schultz masterfully links the stories as she considers the memorialization of each man. She considers the political choices of the institutions appropriating the memories of the men and the racial implications of those conversations. Well written and well researched, this important and readable book offers much to ponder. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —S. K. Fields, University of Colorado-Denver