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College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy Paperback – October 14, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Watterson provides a broad overview of the rise, demise, and rise again of college football over the past century... 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.

(Kirkus Reviews)

Carefully researched and thoroughly documented... This is a thoughtful, intellectually challenging historical examination of college football that places today's headlines in the context of a century of controversy.


Watterson painstakingly details the development from an overly rough, rugby-like battle to the highly organized, semiprofessional game of today.

(Library Journal)

Sweeping and definitive history... [Watterson's] overall analysis of college football and its place in American culture is superb.

(Lane Hartill Christian Science Monitor)

Working with an impressive assortment of historical materials and documents, Watterson documents how, over the years, reformers have made the game less hazardous for players and more exciting for spectators.

(Allen L. Sack Chronicle of Higher Education)

Scholarly and fair.

(Michael Curtin Columbus Dispatch)

This is an excellent book for serious scholars of both football and general sports history.


A thick, deeply argued book, full of passion, anecdote, and a well-reasoned, if protracted, argument.

(Steven P. Gietschier Journal of Illinois History)

This book is an important contribution to sports history, and to a better understanding of the place of organized athletics in American culture.

(Timothy Wood Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography)

College Football is the best single volume for someone who wants to understand how the game evolved and how larger political, social, and economic forces affected its development.

(John M. Carroll Georgia Historical Quarterly)

One of the finest books on sports history I have ever read. The best such books successfully analyze a particular topic and then shed light on much broader issues, and on those grounds Watterson has succeeded. He effectively places college football in the larger context of American social, economic, cultural, and political life, and in doing so transcends the narrow confines of sports history... The scholarship is outstanding.

(James S. Olsonco, author of Winning Is the Only Thing: Sports in America since 1945)

About the Author

John Sayle Watterson is the author of Thomas Burke: Restless Revolutionary and The Games Presidents Play: Sports and the Presidency.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (October 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080187114X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801871146
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Samuel J. Sharp on January 18, 2015
Watterson's study focuses on the governance of college football and how university administrators and athletic departments responded to a series of crises involving injuries, amateurism, scholarships, academic standards, and the advent of television. Watterson is much more excited by what was happening in committees than on the field. The politics of rulemaking can be interesting, but I suspect most readers will find the depth of reporting dull. The heavy focus on the pre WWI period also makes the book harder to relate to modern football. As others have mentioned, the book could use a good edit. Mistakes are prevalent and sometimes jarring.

For readers interested in the history of the game as it was played on the field, I strongly recommend the Boyles and Guido encyclopedias.
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Verified Purchase
I purchased this for my dad because he is an absolute college football fanatic. He seems to really love the book. He started reading it immediately after he opened. Seems like a real page turner.
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The book reads like a college paper, but is extremely well researched. If you enjoy history and football, you'll love this book. But don't expect to read about the past champions and players. This book is about the development of the college game and it's numerous, unending controversies. We all fantasize about the "Good Ol' Days" of college athletics and presume that there was a time when the "Student" came before the "Athlete" in vernacular as well as in practice. This book explores the idea that, in reality, the "Athlete" has always come first, despite the well-intentioned efforts of the academicians.

I didn't exactly breeze through this book. I'd put it down from time to time, read another book, and come back to it. I personally found the later chapters to be the most interesting, probably since the book is in chronological order and the issues were familiar. They must have re-edited the book because I didn't see many grammatical or typographic errors, as others have mentioned.

Pick it up if you like college football, but keep a couple other books in reserve.
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