Big Ten Network lead studio host and former ESPN anchor Revsine explores how the early days of college football were a lot like the climate of the sport today.
Reading the author’s heavily researched tale of the history of college football—specifically, the period between 1890 and 1915—is like watching an old-fashioned, dramatic movie newsreel. Though sometimes slow moving, it is a vivid examination of the sport's infancy. Before the rise of collegiate football, strenuous physical activity was regarded as boorish and unimportant, but football quickly "took off" on college campuses in the mid-19th century, especially among Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Revsine's descriptions of momentous games and quotes from published accounts give the narrative a storybook feel. He examines how numerous issues and ethical questions during the sport's early years are still debated today, such as whether schools were sacrificing academic integrity for athletic success and monetary reward. As far back as 1894, some worried that profits earned from football were "the curse, if not indeed the downfall, of honest university sport.” The $119,000 netted by that year’s Harvard-Yale game (over $3 million in today's money) is presently what advertisers pay for just three commercials aired during ESPN's weekly (during the football season) College GameDay broadcast. Just as they do now, schools saw college football as a “valuable public-relations tool—a means of publicizing their university and energizing alumni, which, of course, had further financial implications.” Revsine's exploration of this early period underscores how these concerns not only still exist, but are perhaps impossible to resolve with the ideal of a lucrative yet "pure" collegiate sport.
An interesting demonstration of how athletics remains today what it was well over 100 years ago: big business.