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Contrary to conventional wisdom, Ingrassia proves that the academy did not initially resist the inclusion of athletics; rather, progressive reformers and professors embraced football as a way to make the ivory tower less elitist. With its emphasis on disciplined teamwork and spectatorship, football was seen as a "middlebrow" way to make the university more accessible to the general public. What it really did was make athletics a permanent fixture on campus with its own set of professional experts, bureaucracies, and ostentatious cathedrals.
Ingrassia examines the early football programs at universities like Michigan, Stanford, Ohio State, and others, then puts those histories in the context of Progressive Era culture, including insights from coaches like Georgia Tech's John Heisman and Notre Dame's Knute Rockne. He describes how reforms emerged out of incidents such as Teddy Roosevelt's son being injured on the field and a section of grandstands collapsing at the University of Chicago. He also touches on some of the problems facing current day college football and shows us that we haven't come far from those initial arguments more than a century ago.
The Rise of Gridiron University shows us where and how it all began, highlighting college football's essential role in shaping the modern university-and by extension American intellectual culture. It should have wide appeal among students of American studies and sports history, as well as fans of college football curious to learn how their game became a cultural force in a matter of a few decades.