Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era

Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era

Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era

Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era


In this compellingly argued and deeply personal book, respected sports historian Michael Oriard--who was himself a former second-team All-American at Notre Dame--explores a wide range of trends that have changed the face of big-time college football and transformed the role of the student-athlete.

Oriard considers such issues as the politicization of football in the 1960s and the implications of the integration of college football. The heart of the book examines a handful of decisions by the NCAA in the early seventies--to make freshmen eligible to play, to lower admission standards, and, most critically, to replace four-year athletic scholarships with one-year renewable scholarships--that helped transform student-athletes into athlete-students and turned the college game into a virtual farm league for professional football.

Oriard then traces the subsequent history of the sport as it has tried to grapple with the fundamental contradiction of college football as both extracurricular activity and multi-billion-dollar mass entertainment. The relentless necessity to pursue revenue, Oriard argues, undermines attempts to maintain academic standards, and it fosters a football culture in which athletes are both excessively entitled and exploited.

As a former college football player, Oriard brings a unique perspective to his topic, and his sympathies are always with the players and for the game. This original and compelling study will interest everyone concerned about the future of college football.


This book is a companion to my Brand NFL: Making and Selling America’s Favorite Sport (2007). They began as a single volume, which was itself a hybrid: an account of football in the 1960s, when I myself played, leading into an exploration of how the game at both the college and professional levels has changed since then. There proved to be too many narratives to develop coherently, though the necessary bisection was not all gain. What has happened in the National Football League (NFL) in recent decades has powerfully affected what used to be known as Division I-A college football (now the Football Bowl Subdivision)—think only of the lure of million-dollar nfl salaries for “student-athletes” and the impact on college coaches’ salaries as pro coaches began making millions. Many nfl players, in turn, are shaped in part by their college experiences—think here of the sense of entitlement that follows some athletes from college to the pros. in fact, one of the fundamental differences in football today from football in my day is the general sense of a continuous path from youth leagues all the way to the nfl. Boys of my generation knew little about the nfl beyond what they figured out from watching the weekly game on Sunday. Boys today know everything about the nfl that SportsCenter and the rest of our 24/7 sports media and entertainment industries show and tell them. Boys of my generation might have dreamed of playing pro football some day. Like-minded boys today might plot a course—through weight rooms, diet supplements, summer camps, personal trainers, recruiting gurus—for getting there.

Seeing the entire American football world as a whole has its advantages, then, but so does a tighter focus on one part of it. This book considers the part of our larger football culture with the longest and richest history, as well as the most profound contradiction at its heart. From the moment that university administrators in the 1890s realized that the new public passion for intercollegiate football provided opportunities for university building, college football has been torn between the com-

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