Monday, February 09, 2015

The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football

Although I did not plan it this way, I finished reading The System just the day before The University of Oregon and Ohio State University played for the first college football playoff national championship (won easily by Ohio State 42-20).  I am a fairly avid fan of college football, but watching the playoff system at work while reading this particular book seemed to put much more of a human face on the players and coaches by whom I was being so entertained.  Both aspects of the book’s subtitle, The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, were on display during the playoffs. 

Authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian have done their homework, and it shows in the way that The System covers just about every aspect of big-time college sports (which, by definition, automatically means football, with basketball a distant second).  The book takes a frank look at just about everything that happens on the field – as well as what happens off the field of play.  And it is what happens away from the spotlight that will probably prove most interesting to readers/football fans.  Hard looks are taken at the programs of schools like Alabama, BYU, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Washington State, and others.  Some programs and their coaches come out looking better than others, of course.  This is particularly true of BYU, a school at which the morals and character of student athletes is at the top of the coach’s, and the school administration’s, priority lists.

Benedict and Keteyian do spend extensive time on recruiting scandals and claims by athletes and their parents that they have been “abused” by coaches (Mike Leach’s problems at Texas Tech and Washington State are covered in detail, for instance), but they also look closely at problems caused by over-the-top boosters and alumni, female tutors hired by the programs to keep player grades up, and a subclass of recruiters known as “closers.”  “Closers,” by the way, are the beautiful female students who volunteer to show potential high school recruits around campus and town when they make their official recruiting visits to the schools.  As might be expected, what happens off the field can greatly impact, be it negatively or be it positively, the win-loss record a team achieves on the field.

The most disturbing aspect of what the authors describe, however, regards the percentage of “student/athletes” who are also “student/criminals” and how these particular players are often protected by the schools for which they play football.  Keep in mind that the crimes with which these players have been charged are not exactly white-collar crimes.  Instead, they most often involve robbery, both armed and otherwise; rape; other violence against women; or drug abuse.  In way too many instances, football comes first, and justice a distant second.

The System, although it covers incidents and other aspects of college football that more avid fans might already be familiar with, offers insights and additional details that will be new to most readers.  I recommend the book for fans, parents of players, and parents of girls headed to college.  There’s a lesson, and a warning, there for all of them.

If you want to learn more about The System:

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