Cover for LESTER: Stagg's University: The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago

Stagg's University

The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago
Awards and Recognition:

Winner of the North American Society for Sports History Book Award, 1996.

A history of the University of Chicago's football powerhouse

The legendary University of Chicago football program had an unusual beginning, a dazzling middle, and an inglorious conclusion. Its architect: Amos Alonzo Stagg, the most creative and entrepreneurial college coach of his time. A former all-American gridiron star at Yale, Stagg joined an elite academic institution that boasted intellectual notables like John Dewey, Thorstein Veblen, and Albert Michelson. Within fifteen years, the fame of Stagg's football program had eclipsed even Michelson's renown as the first American citizen to win a Nobel Prize.

Robin Lester follows the commercial trail blazed by Stagg and University President William Rainey Harper and the subsequent transformation of college football into a mass entertainment industry that changed campuses and captured the national imagination. Fascinating and detailed, Stagg's University reveals how the University of Chicago's football industry prefigured today's billion-dollar sport juggernaut and details the life and leadership of one of its foundational personages.


"This volume is academically solid, scrupulously researched, and written with style. . . . Lester's narrative is compelling, and, in short, if you want to understand the place of intercollegiate athletics in the larger American society in the twentieth century, this volume is the place to start."--Ronald A. Smith, Journal of Sport History

"This splendid biography of a famous coach is, among other things, a brilliant commentary on football's role in the American university and the national culture."--Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

"Lester, who had private access to all of Stagg's papers and letters, has scrutinized the phenomenon of college football as closely as anyone has. His book is an amazing compendium of the forces that bred big-time college football."--Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times

"An impressive analytical account. . . . Lester's unsparing look at big-time college athletics is thought-provoking and challenging."--Vernon L. Volpe, Illinois Historical Journal

"Lester's attractive study of [Stagg] has provided an important contribution both to the history of American football and the general history of sport."--International Journal of the History of Sport


Robin Lester is a retired professor and headmaster. He taught at the University of Chicago, Columbia College, and Pepperdine University and is the author of Princes of New York.

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