Monday, October 21, 2013

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

College football is one of this country's favorite activities. Every Saturday thousands of students, alumni and ordinary fans pack stadiums across the country to watch young men wearing plastic armor clash against one another on the gridiron. But there is an ...

In their new book, The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian peel back the curtain and take a look at what happens when the cameras aren't on. And, in many cases, it isn't pretty.

The first thing you need to know is that, for the vast majority of players, once they leave school, they leave football behind for good. The glory of the NFL calls only for a few select young men - and, even then, most are chewed up and spit out by the pros in less than four years. Buy you'll never hear a coach or recruiter point out that little fact to any of the impressionable high school seniors they're courting. Instead they promise glory and fame. The kids see the inner sanctums of football programs across the country. They visit locker rooms, trophy rooms and training facilities. They are escorted around campus by attractive young ladies who flirt with them until they've signed their letter of intent.

There are exceptions, however. There are those coaches who demand that the young men in their charge get their education. But, with escalating salaries and pressure from boosters, the pressure is to win, win, win. And that means cutting corners and promising the moon. It also means that more and more coaches are willing to take chances on kids with sketchy backgrounds if they think the kid can help win more ball games.

The authors take you behind the scenes for a look at how the big money boosters play and at the world of 7-on-7 spring football. Everyone, it seems, has their hand out looking for something - whether it be access to studly football players, cash in exchange for delivering a recruit, a big check from the television network or the next big job. The only ones not cashing out are the players themselves.

Yes, they're given the opportunity to obtain a free education at some of the nation's finest colleges and universities. But, they are also pressure to sacrifice everything for the football team - and that includes their education. While there are some coaches, and some schools, that insist their athletes leave with a diploma - there are too many others who couldn't care less about what happens to those young men once they hang their helmets and pads up for good.

And that's the ultimate tragedy in all of this. College football should be an activity that brings students and alumni together - an activity that makes a university a family. It has, however, become the tail that wags the dog.

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