Abstract

In college football, winning begets winning and losing begets losing. So why did the University of Minnesota, no doubt among college football's elite before World War II, not follow this rich-get-richer trajectory, and what does their descent suggest about the nature of college football? Minnesota fell because of their reluctance to change in a rapidly changing world. College football evolved especially quickly after World War II, but Minnesota's famous football coach, Bernie Bierman, and the new university president, James Morrill, clung to notions of college football that had been popular before the war but were antiquated after it. Bierman continued to deploy old-fashioned strategies, while Morrill's persistent advocacy for the less-commercialized rules of the pre–World War II era hampered recruiting and discouraged the best young coaches from working at Minnesota. The school's unique fall suggests that college football rewards conformity, that unilateral attempts to change the game will fail, and that conservatism has an enduring cost.

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