Midweek books: Soul-searching and college football, con’t

On Wednesday I highlight noteworthy new sports books, with links to reviews, interviews and other information about the subject and/or author.

A new season of college football typically brings a wave of new books about what’s wrong with the game, and what might be done about it.

This season is no different, and already a few “insidery” volumes have or will soon be published.

But there doesn’t seem to be quite as much navel-gazing, at least judging from a few of the talked-about books to be included in this post.

thesystemInvestigative journalist Armen Keteyian and professor Jeff Benedict, long a critic of the culture of football, have teamed up to write “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football,” which is out Sept. 17.

What the early reviews point out is that while the authors reveal plenty about the “underbelly” of the sport — included the role of  recruiting hostesses that truly abound in the South — this isn’t a screed.

Already “The System” has gotten a nice nod from Harvey Araton of The New York Times (who partnered with Keteyian on a similar book about the NBA, “Money Players”).

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports — no stranger to college football exposés — penned a rather enthusiastic review of “The System,” calling it “the best book on the sport written in years.”

There’s more beyond what’s been previously written about Jim Tressel at Ohio State, student-athlete tutoring deficiencies at Missouri, Texas Tech’s firing of Mike Leach, and plenty from Alabama’s Nick Saban, who gave the authors lots of access. Writes Wetzel:

By no means, is the book all negative stories. Keteyian and Benedict are fans at heart. There’s a fun weekend with T. Boone Pickens, including the pregame party at his huge ranch and the scene from inside his private jet. There are another couple days enjoying the good life with the ESPN “GameDay” crew. There’s a powerful look at the life and career of BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who went through legal issues but embraced his second chance in Provo.

More on “The System” from Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report, Steven Muma of SB Nation, and Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who reckons that Missouri athletics offiicals may not have been aware of the book and what was being reported about the tutoring program.

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John Bacon’s  “Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football,” is raising questions about the veracity of several stories relating to the Penn State team from last season. A writing instructor at Michigan, Bacon focused his book, which will be published on Sept. 3, on the 2012 seasons of four Big Ten schools, including Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern. fourthandlong

None of the disputed Penn State stories directly involve the Paterno-Sandusky scandal. In his review of the book, Dave Jones of The Patriot-News of Harrisburg quotes the father of Silas Redd, a former Penn State running back, denying Bacon’s assertion that he was “recruited” by rap star Snoop Dogg on a visit to USC. This was when the NCAA allowed Penn State players to transfer without restrictions following heavy sanctions levied on the Nittany Lions program. Redd did move to USC, but he, his father and USC all insist Snoop Dogg wasn’t involved at all.

Here’s an excerpt in The Wall Street Journal about how other schools tried to clean out the Penn State roster; another Penn State-related excerpt in USA Today.

This Q & A with Bacon by Onward State, an independent website serving the Penn State community, doesn’t allude to the alleged inaccuracies.

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Also just out — and just in time for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the March on Washington — is “Breaking the Line,” Samuel Freedman’s account of the 1967 black college football championship between Grambling and Florida A & M.

Led by two of the legendary coaching figures in the game — Eddie Robinson and Jake Gaither, respectively — these teams battled at a time right before the full integration of college football.

Subtitled “The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights,” Freedman writes in depth about the quarterbacks, Grambling’s James Harris (later an NFL pioneer at the position for the Los Angeles Rams) and Ken Riley of Florida A & M.

breakingthelineHere’s a review from the Sports Book Review Center; and an excerpt from ESPN.com:

The most gifted black players and coaches were both nurtured and trapped within their separate domain. With a mixture of bravado and bitterness, they called the all-black athletic conferences “the chitlin’ circuit,” a term borrowed from the string of ghetto theaters plied by black musicians and comedians. Ignored most of the time, slighted the rest, the men of black football tempered their skills and forged their reputations, as one college coach put it, “behind God’s back.”

A longer excerpt in The Daily Beast explains how Robinson turned Grambling, located in a rural outpost in northern Louisiana, into a college powerhouse and sent many players to the NFL, some of them Hall of Famers:

On the field and off, Robinson implemented his own version of separate but equal. In it, a black had to be better than a white merely to have an equal chance—better in the classroom, better on the field, better in his character. For Robinson, there was no point in railing against the unfairness of the world; resentment would devour you from the inside out. There was only the perpetual effort to improve the self and uplift the race.

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