Book review: Dave Revsine details how college football’s problems have existed from beginning

I did a review for the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row section on the new book by Dave Revsine of the Big Ten Network: Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation. Highly recommended.

From the review.


Quick quiz: When was this quote said about college football?

“Football today is a social obsession—a boy-killing, education prostituting, gladiatorial sport. It teaches virility and courage…but so does war.”

This could be a critic of the game in 2014, right? In fact, it dates back to 1905 when University of Chicago professor Shailer Matthews weighed in on the violence that was plaguing college football.

In “Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation,” author Dave Revsine documents the roots of football in America. He shows how from humble beginnings in the 1860s, the game grew into a full-blown spectacle on college campuses by the early 20th Century. Big games drew huge crowds, making the coaches and players sports’ most popular stars long before pro football burst on to the scene.

Yet what stands out in the book is Revsine’s contention that all the controversies that plague the modern version of the college football are hardly recent developments. The problems were there from the beginning: cheating to secure top players; academic fraud; debates about amateurism; an over-emphasis on maximizing revenue; and the physical toll football takes on young athletes.

Revsine, the lead anchor for BTN (The Big Ten Network), writes: “Any modern-day football fans yearning for a return to a simpler, halcyon time when the game was enjoyed by well-mannered and cultured Ivy Leaguers should quickly disabuse themselves of that notion. There was no such time.”


Still, even early on, there were concerns about the emphasis on profits. “Money, money money seems to be the cry,” wrote author Caspar Whitney in 1894. “It will be the curse, if indeed not the downfall of honest university sport.”

Indeed, scandals about illegal payments to players, along with other forms of cheating, would make headlines in the first decades of the 20th Century. University of Illinois coach George Huff said in 1905 success of major programs “depended upon the ability of the colleges to sustain men by devious means.”

One thought on “Book review: Dave Revsine details how college football’s problems have existed from beginning

  1. Dave’s book makes great points. I also say can be cited as a reason against stipends. Stipends are merely the next level of the money problem in college sports; there is no solution. There is no solution because we can’t trust boosters, agents and runners (not to mention some coaches).

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