Just What is the Modern Era of College Football?

Football didn't look like this in the 1950's. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

In our Iowa preview, I claimed that Iowa's best decade in the modern era was essentially the same as Nebraska's worst decade...both being the 2000's. One Iowa fan pulled out his encyclopedia and took issue with that.

It's true that I set the delimiter at 1960...and yes, that coincides with Bob Devaney's arrival in Lincoln. It is an arbitrary definition on my part, but I felt that the last 50 years was a good definition of the modern era. But others do disagree.

Oklahoma chooses to use post-World War II as the beginning of the modern era. Of course, they do that to claim their national championships in 1950, 1955, and 1956. But really, should the 1950's be considered the modern era?

One of the reasons I chose the 1960's to begin was the return of the two platoon system. I think the days of two-way players was so different to the game that you have to separate it in some manner. But some people want to go even more recent; Saturday Down South recently wanted to make the cutoff line at 1982. Certainly that's also the time that television contracts started to explode. In the 1950's and 1960's, there was one game televised each week. By the 1970's, there was regional coverage of teams but usually just one time slot. But then Oklahoma sued the NCAA, and TV contracts started being split up between ABC and CBS. The Pac-10 and Big Ten had one deal with a network, while the College Football Association hooked up the rest of the major conferences with the other. At the same time, ESPN started carrying games. In 1991, Notre Dame signed their own exclusive deal with NBC, and the free-for-all was on.

Now, nearly every game is televised on some sort of network. Not one or two a week, but close to 50 or more. And the game is different now. 300 yard passers were a rarity 30 years ago, as were spread offenses. The wishbone is essentially retired, and specialized defenses rule the roost.

Is it convenient to draw the modern era of college football at the arrival of Bob Devaney? Yes, but the answer to Iowa fan's argument is that if I chose the 1980's, the argument still holds. It's only if I include the era of the two-way player in the 1950's that the Callahan era isn't part of the worst decade of Husker football.

Is it really accurate to include the 1950's as part of the "modern era" of college football?

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