The Good, Bad and Ugly in ‘The System’ of College Football

The System, Book review

“The System”, Publisher: Penguin Random House

“I don’t think I will be able to watch a game now without thinking about the scope and amount of physical carnage that’s required for college football to succeed at the level it does.” —
Jeff Benedict, co-author of “The System”

“If I had one absolute revelation [after writing the book], it was how the weight of these $100 million programs is on the backs of these kids and the pressure they are under every week to perform.”  — Armen Keyeyrian, co-author of “The System”

“The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football” is a page turner. I couldn’t put it down, yet I hate football.  “The System” delves into the good, bad and ugly of college football— except it’s short on good. Armen Keteyian, lead correspondent of CBS’ 60 minutes sports program and co-author of the book, describes his goal in writing the book with co-author Jeff Benedict, which was “to pull back the curtain” on an ever-consuming entity—college football (Araton, 2013).  Indeed, when getting a glimpse behind the curtain, it’s not pretty.

If you read “The System” and are a college football fan you’ll never view football the same way again, and if you’re not a fan like me, you’re guaranteed never to become one.  Though on the other hand, I did gain an appreciation for the sport, specifically the amount of work and dedication invested by many honest and dedicated individuals —coaches, athletic directors, administrators, and athletes. Also, before reading the book I viewed the student-athletes as the victims of a system that puts sports before academics, that carry the weight of a multi-million dollar industry on their backs.  Yet there appears to be a hierarchy of victims in this system of college football; at the bottom of the hierarchy is a group of individuals—usually young women, though young men and children are not excluded, that are recipients of college-athletes or coaches, unlawful behaviour of sexual misconduct, abuse, assault and even robbery. Behaviours that are ignored, covered-up or dismissed in an effort to protect the power-wielding, money-generating entity of college football.

Summary of Book
Each chapter of “The System” describes a different aspect of college football; shares the intricate and often disturbing methods that make college football the money generating behemoth it is. Highlights of the book:

  • Recruiting athletes; it’s not about the academics, but the size of the facilities, the promise of NFL exposure and the ‘public relations’ efforts of the recruiting hostesses (pp 21 – 38)
  • Mega-money generated by college football; millions in revenue from television networks, corporate sponsors, ticket sales, branded merchandise, alumni donations—yet the majority of schools’ programs lose money every year. According to NCAA figures, just 22 programs out of 120 schools with football programs turned a profit in 2011. The average debt of the  schools’ in the red was $11 million each (p 44)
  • Boosters; how they support athletes, the programs and schools (pp 146 – 161 and pp 55 – 57)
  • Investigators; NCAA’s efforts to police the schools (pp 196 – 214)
  • Coaches; how they are recruited and how they recruit and manage their teams (pp 295 – 304)
  • Tutors; the academic support system that uses tutors, usually female students to keep athletes in the game (pp 162 -182)

Closing thoughts
An eye-opening read for football fans, coaches, parents of athletes seeking football scholarships, and anyone interested in finding out what goes on behind the curtain of college football.  “The System” is well-written, thoroughly researched—though there were times I struggled to keep track of the names of the players and key actors. Overall, an important book that sheds light on college football’s triumph and successes, yet reveals the stark reality that there’s more scandal than glory, and far more losers than winners.

Further Reading:

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