Watterson (History/James Madison Univ.) provides a broad overview of the rise, demise, and rise again of college football over the past century. A history of college football, of course, is a history of the game itself, and the author takes us from its origins in English Rugby to the massive, television-fed industry that it is today—offering a narrative account of its development and statistics on everything from casualties on the field to attendance at games. Although Watterson mentions key personalities here and there, his main focus is on the large trends that have shaped the sport (in chapters such as “Football’s Longest Season: The Fall of 1905” and “The Professional Paradigm, 1956 to 1974”). His coverage of the facts—the scandals, the commissions, committees, and conferences—is not likely to be surpassed, either in depth of detail or sharpness of analysis. And it is when the sport is in the most disarray that the author makes it seem the most interesting—with his coverage of such scandals as “illicit aid” (which provided under-the-table pay to players in the 1930s) and league segregation (which led to protests by African-American players in the 1960s).
An exhaustive (if somewhat dry) look at a fascinating sport that has engrossed America for over a hundred years.