How the US armed forces shaped college football

America and the Garrison Stadium: How the US Armed Forces Shaped College Football

Armed Forces & Society

U.S. football fans might not realize the influence that the US military had in the widespread appeal of football. This study reveals that college football can credit the military for bringing the sport to the masses. Additionally, it explores how the impact of World Wars helped bring about issues such as payment of college athletes, which are still being debated.

The sport evolved from roots on the campuses of several elite Northeastern institutions to spread to the most popular sport in America took the impact of the military and most notably the First World War. Troops were in need not only of recreation, but also physical activity that would help them in their military training. Football became a favorite activity to meet both of these needs and thereby exposed more Americans to the sport than ever before. Competitions between military camps were widely followed and helped perpetuate the popularity of the sport.  After World War II, the establishment of the GI bill pushed these athletes to flood the universities and some were heavily recruited by football programs. This led to the NCAA establishing regulations on scholarships and restrictions of payment of athletes.


American military institutions importantly shaped the popular sport of college football. From support at its two oldest service academies, interest in football spread through military units across the country with military actors involved in the formation of the country’s first collegiate athletic conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Subsequently, the US military functioned as an agent of authoritative diffusion, fostering interest in college football after the First World War. Furthermore, military institutions, including the draft, affected not only which team would be most successful during the Second World War but also how civilians would play the game. These effects call to mind Charles Tilly’s work on state formation and security-driven resource extraction as well as Harold Lasswell’s garrison state idea.

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Article details
Vasquez, J. (2011). America and the Garrison Stadium: How the US Armed Forces Shaped College Football Armed Forces & Society DOI: 10.1177/0095327X11426255

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