Friday, February 7, 2014

Book Review "The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football" by Benedict and Keteyian

Well, it's been awhile since your humble blogger has posted. I felt it appropriate to bring to your attention a book discussing many of the problems with the NCAA and college football. I got this book through Amazon, it was given to me by a relative as a Christmas gift. Hardcover with a nice glossy type dust jacket and comes from DoubleDay Publishers.

Here is some background music you can listen to as I ramble poetic on this book. It's Curren$y's "Reagan Era". And no I do not have copyright or rights of any kind to this music:

First I should say the book is written by two men, and it would just about have to be with the leg work involved to write this accurately, with the broad survey of NCAA landscape they cover and very detailed parts of the book relating to individual athletes' stories. Also the depth it delves into some programs' recruiting practices. Most of the chapters are very short (I would guestimate about 15--20 pages per chapter) but cover a surprising amount of ground in each. 27 chapters in all in a 386 page book so if you actually do the math thats 14 pages per chapter. That makes for fun reading if you're like me and have short attention span. Yet it is not superficially written.  They cover serious topics in depth and really give you a deep impression of most of the programs they touch on.  I will make a break down of each chapter by topic so you can skip to parts which hold higher interest for you:

Chapter 1-- Mike Leach's personal bio and career climb, mostly pre-TexasTech
Chapter 2-- A story on Tennessee University's "Hostess" program aimed at recruiting high school kids to their school (You will most likely feel like taking a strong hot shower after reading this chapter, preferably with sulfur soap).
Chapter 3-- A look at the Michigan football/athletic program, largely focusing on their Athletic Director Dave Brandon who is portrayed as a type of marketing guru.
Chapter 4-- Discusses Don King, a strip club owner/promoter in the Austin Texas area. And specifically some favors King did for recruits to Texas in order to entice them to sign with Texas University.
Chapter 5-- This chapter will also leave you wanting to take a thorough shower. Covering some sex crimes which were "alleged" to have happened on BYU campus and committed by BYU players. I tend to strongly believe that they did actually occur, but what can we say about the average IQ of jurors selected in our current legal setup??
Chapter 6-- This covers already well worn ground on the goings on and lead up to the firing of Mike Leach at Texas Tech, after having coached there 10 years and having the highest graduation rate of his players of any football program in the Big 12 conference over that same time frame. If you're a football fan you've probably read most of this already. A few gems here, the main gist of which is Leach comes out smelling much better than the Texas Tech administration does.
Chapter 7-- One of the more uplifting and positive parts of the book, covers Coach Rob Ambrose battles at Towson University, and why sometimes small programs will "bite off more than they can chew" scheduling away games against powerhouse programs.
Chapter 8-- Deals with some of the crap that went on at Ohio State. This chapter makes it crystal clear that Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel lied to NCAA "investigators" (NCAA normally "investigates" things after they've been printed in newspapers or players couldn't manage the temptation to brag on their gifts) multiple times as to his awareness of Robert DiGeronimo's "benevolence" to the football program.  Tressel's "punishment", shortly after, was to get a cushy $200,000 salaried office job.
Chapter 9-- Describes some of the details of the duties of "DFO" (director of football operations) at D1 Universities.  Covers some things on the Texas football program, mostly focusing on Mack Brown's former "right hand man" (or at least Mack's appointed problem solver) DFO Cleve Bryant.
Chapter 10-- Covers the resurgence of the BYU program under Bronco Mendenhall after the rape scandal that happened under Gary Crowton's time.  Crowton doesn't come across all bad here, he seems to have been pressured by BYU administration to take more "borderline" players so he could meet their "win quota" and when he does this, BYU throws him under the bus. Nonetheless with a "gang-rape" story, it did kind of force their hand some to clean the slate. Mendenhall seems to be more thorough in evaluating player "intangibles" and it ends up paying dividends for the program.
Chapter 11-- Takes on the affect "external" players have on football programs. The problem often is though, that athletic directors make no effort (beyond window dressing) to keep these "hangers on" external and allow them to co-mingle and fraternize with players in locker rooms and other events. Benedict and Keteyian break these "hangers on" down into 4 categories which I will explain farther down in my review.
Chapter 12-- Breaks down what happens in many tutoring programs offered to football players.  The overwhelming majority of tutors are "coincidentally" females (I'm sure this fact would be a "shock" to your average masters degreed Athletic Director, or at least they would TELL us it was a "shock" at the damage control press conference), often times becoming tutors for all the wrong reasons, it can get complicated as to their interactions with players. It specifically talks about a case in Missouri's football program in which a female tutor was, shall we say "finger raped" by a Tiger running back. This happened in a dorm room she was sharing with another tutor when the other tutor made the genius move of inviting a young black man she was "tutoring" to their dorm after midnight. Washington probably told his Mom he thought that warm moist area was the bedroom light switch.
Chapter 13--  Considers the attempts of an Athletic Director, Bill Moos,  to turn around a program which in the past had been considered a "runt" of the Pac-12 Conference. Moos comes across as quite wily in the book and seems largely successful in kickstarting the Washington State football program to very soon become a force to be reckoned with.
Chapter 14-- Largely discusses the NCAA administrative body itself. Mentioning a newspaper columnist who compares the NCAA to "an uncaring 'cartel' similar to Big Tobacco".  It also shows clearly when it comes to the NCAA's football enforcement group and individual universities, the tail is clearly wagging the dog.  The second half of this chapter also brushes on the topic of 7-on-7 football camps largely held in the spring and summer, and having an ever rampant effect on college recruiting. This is kind of "on the fringes" now, but 7-on-7 camps are going to become more "mainstream" over time.
Chapter 15-- Discusses the "lawyering up" process universities go through when they've been busted, and how the NCAA enforcement division is very inequitable in the way they "grill" student athletes post infractions, and how they treat coaches and administrators with "kid gloves". It is very clear that the standard for student athletes recalling events is much higher than the standard applied to the administrators and coaches. Often NCAA "investigators" (you know the "investigators" who look into things AFTER the infractions have already made the front cover of Sports Illustrated) lay out trap questions for athletes to show "inconsistencies" while soft-pedaling and glossing over athletic department administrators' LIES.  Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith does not come across as either likable or credible in the details of this chapter, especially concerning when Gene Smith was made aware of infractions he seemed to "play dumb" on.
Chapter 16-- More break down on athletic director Bill Moos at Washington State, and his hunt for a new football coach. His "courting" of Mike Leach is interesting, and shows how indirect communication and "go betweens" are often used in these coaching searches where public perception of the process and early leaks can be damaging to a program and hurtful to a "lame duck" coaching staff.
Chapter 17-- This is one of the more uplifting parts of the book. Discussing an "undiscovered talent" in walk-on athlete Ezekiel Ansah at BYU. I would share more but I don't want to ruin it for you. If you get tired of the darker part of the book you can jump to this chapter and it will pick your spirits back up.
Chapter 18-- Gives details of Mal Moore's (Alabama AD) coaching search back in 2007. Most would say the results of Moore's search/hire have been pretty good. The details of this are very fascinating. Editorial aside: Some people criticize Saban as "boring". I attribute this false label of "boring" to the fact your average sports journalist feels confused when he hears a coach who can actually speak the English language well. Sports journalists missing the days of half-cocked comments, along with "ain't", "y'all" and roughly 5 million "yuh know"s per minute. It just kills the sports journalists when a coach doesn't make illiterate gaffs, so then, we have to label him "boring". I do get the sense (this is just my subjective opinion, not the book's) that Saban can be a bully, when he wants to be, behind closed doors. For example THIS STORY.  Do you think a Strength and Conditioning Coach (a prime job that many would nearly kill to have) will give money/gifts to players without clearing it ahead of time through an anal retentive control freak like Nick Saban?!?!?! Wouldn't it be awfully convenient for the Head Coach to ask/order one of the lower members of the staff to do the "dirty deeds"?? And, later, if the hammer falls, shove the Strength and Conditioning Coach off with a large mop saying "I as the head coach never 'sanctioned' such an act" and the very next day have suitors line-up single file for a top 5 program job?? IN FACT, the NCAA knows exactly what went on here, and have given clear signal they have no interest in enforcing the rules on powerhouse SEC teams.
Chapter 19-- One of the best parts of the book, it discusses injuries and gives many interesting numbers and facts. I will break those down further below.
Chapter 20-- Discusses the recruitment of a 5 star high school athlete and the practices involved in recruiting him. His father (a blowhard???) claims he was offered hundreds of thousands of dollars from some major programs and turned them down.
Chapter 21-- Details the nuts and bolts process Mike Leach is going through turning around a program that has been conditioned over a period of years to losing ball games. He's trying to change the culture, attitude, and mental toughness of players through tougher physical drills and more demanding conditioning. Also partly discusses his methodology in finding winning quarterbacks.
Chapter 22-- Covers the see-no-evil standard as prevails at many powerhouse football programs. Penn State turning a blind eye to the sexual molestation of children is a PRIME example. Notre Dame has also been an offender here, basically ignoring rape charges against one of the Fighting Irish football players and threats made by his teammate to the victim by phone. She ended up committing suicide after the charges were largely ignored by campus administration.  There are tons more stories like this in the chapter. One of my favorite parts of this book (yet so sad) is the story of Alphonso Marsh. A young man from Compton, with no father in his life (outside his high school coach). It's the stories like Alphonso Marsh's that really feed my anger to the NCAA more than anything. They throw these young men in the trash after having used them to sell stadium tickets. These young black men are good enough to recruit, but not good enough to share the time of day with when their goals no longer coincide with raising money for the athletic department. Mr. Marsh was a fan of the rapper Curren$y (in the music video above), a product of Louisiana, like Alphonso Marsh's mother--Curley Rachal.                                          
                                                                                                     Alphonso Marsh

Chapter 23-- A short chapter that discusses more Washington State growing pains, and the heated rivalry (with religious connotations) between BYU and Utah.
Chapter 24-- Mike Leach hits another bump in the road. But in the end, Coach Leach is given a "clean bill of health" by a Pac-12 investigation. This basically reinforces what literate sports fans already knew. That Adam James and Craig James claims about Mike Leach were a 20 pound bag of cow crap that only the Eastern Sexual Partners Network would buy.
Chapter 25-- Deals with the excruciatingly difficult decision the best athletes have to make: whether to finish their education, get their degree, and give a "thank you" to the school with 1 more year of playing college (thereby risking injury and potentially millions of future years earning potential) or leave the friends and joy they have experienced in college for the cold/pragmatic world of the NFL and possible financial security.  Kyle Van Noy and "Ziggy" Ansah of BYU are the examples sketched out. BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall seems to have a more personal approach to his players, so the decision is not as easy as it might appear.
Chapter 26-- Outside of some numbers given on amounts of TV contracts with the NCAA and/or conferences this is the only useless chapter in the entire book. Just media members thinking media members are news. Just skim it to educate yourself on the TV money numbers, other than that the whole chapter is a throw away.
Chapter 27-- Some slobbering over Nick Saban. Are some parts interesting and educational?? Yes. Is this chapter worth reading?? Yes. Just be aware there is a lot of "idealizing" of Nick Saban's image, based on winning games. Not based in the more blemished version of Nick Saban, the cut the corners operator behind the scenes. Remember, this guy was tight with Bill Belichick. Need I say more???

Some interesting fact gems (some people might call them "bootleg snacks") from the book:

There are basically 4 categories of "hangers on" or boosters in a football program:

POWER BROKERS: Jimmy Raine and Robert "Bobby" Lowder at Auburn are 2 examples of "power brokers" given by authors Benedict and Keteyian. These are individuals who have maybe done well in private business, are on the board of trustees, and influence decisions. Often time these types do the "humble brag" "aaaaww shucks, I'm not powerful" schtick when, in reality, they get a hard on letting everyone and their brother know who was hired at the program because of their influence on the AD etc.

JOCK SNIFFERS: These are the types that don't give money to the athletic department, nor have strong ties to the university. Choosing instead to give money directly to the football players themselves.  Nevin Shapiro at Miami falls under this category. (I think the ADs are often very aware of these jock sniffers and "play dumb" about it, as I believe was the case at Miami. Shapiro was allowed  on the Canes playing field multiple times. You can't tell me the ADs don't hear/see these guys. However this type is even more convenient to programs in some aspects, in that it's much tougher to uncover jock sniffers' "paper trail").  The end goal here for jock sniffers is either the macho thrill of socializing with athletes, creating a bond with the athlete in order to secure the right to be the player's agent, and/or both.

BUILDERS: These are the ones that want their name stamped on everything, mostly facilities, stadiums, and dorms. Stephen M. Ross at Michigan is an example of this sort.

TURBO BOOSTERS: This is an elite set.  Basically only 2 men fall in this category. T. Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State, and Phil Knight at Oregon. Able to take mediocre programs (at best) and turn them into national powerhouses in a period of roughly 4--5 years. Hundreds of millions of dollars piped into the program in order to pump it up from regionally ordinary into the national consciousness of football fans and the general public.

Facts related to player injuries (Again, most of these are from Chapter 19):

Between the 8 BCS conferences and independents covering the time of early January 2012 to early January 2013 there were (at minimum) 282 season-ending injuries. 68% (190) of those were lower-body injuries (something, you would think, coaching staffs and trainers would be very interested in knowing). The NCAA "official" data (which is older data) says that lower-body injuries are roughly 50%. By the authors' best estimates knee injuries accounted for 93 of the season-ending injuries, 1/3 of the total in 2012.

Here are The Top 5 Season Ending Injuries (taken verbatim from Benedict and Keteyian's book)

1. Knee, 93
2.. Shoulder, 31
3. ACL, 29
4. Leg, 27
5. Ankle, 19

Much information on injuries is withheld by coaches, and conferences do not mandate that information to be given publicly. Verbatim from the book:

"It's just a competitive disadvantage for us when other teams don't [publicly report injuries] and we do, so that's going to be the road we take," said Washington's head coach, Steve Sarkisian, in September 2012, referring to his decision not to report or comment on injuries.

Page 274--275 of Benedict and Keteyian's book is a real treasure trove of info, I think for members of the public that actually have any concern for these players, and even more so would be useful data to coaches (throwing pearls before swine??) wanting to know methods and strategies for preventing/avoiding injuries. They call the 2012 data on injuries the "October Surprise".

"Just 20% of reported season-ending injuries came after October. But, in October alone, there were ninety-eight season-ending injuries. That works out to 35% of all season-ending injuries for 2012."

Month-By-Month Injury Breakdown Injury Breakdown IN 2012

August: 67
September: 62
October: 98
November: 48
December: 7 (one should point out here there are usually much fewer actual games in December, so that skews the data some, but still these numbers have a lot of implications)

There also is a very terrific piece of wisdom passed on here by Jim Thornton head athletic trainer at Clarion University of Pennsylvania and President of the National Athletic Trainer's Association. And here I will quote two paragraphs verbatim from the book:

"Football is a taxing sport that is a great sport, but by October you have to realize that they have been through spring conditioning, summer conditioning, camp and a season that has hitting, collisions, et cetera, associated with it and they get tired," Thornton said. "Subsequent to all this, the conditioning they get sometimes is not focused on what will prevent these injuries; rather, it is focused only on overall strength and getting 'big.' "
He added, "There has to be a paradigm shift that is specific to prevention and performance enhancement rather than just throwing weights around. The programs that are not focusing on these concepts are most likely the ones that have a higher incidence of injuries."

As a side note, it is worth mentioning that Bob Stoops of Oklahoma believes very strongly in full contact drills even in spring conditioning and camps. His team was the Big 12 LEADER in season-ending injuries at 8 for 2012.

Well, in all, it is a GREAT book. It is such a refreshing feeling to read a book about the dark side of college football without either sugar-coating it, or on the other side of the spectrum, glamorizing sex, drugs, and monetary corruption. One of the top 5 books on sports I have read in my life. I highly recommend you buy it. If you're willing to wait until August, you can get the book for about $14. Not bad for a taste of reality of what NCAA football is, minus Athletic Director window dressing, smiley faces, and blowing smoke up our skirts.