TRC Book Review: The King of Sports

Let’s go ahead and address your first question: Yes, we TRC guys do READ. Sometimes we even read for fun. Well, not the Gman, but that’s a long, boring, contract-laden story for another day.

Through an impressively comic series of Christmas re-giftings, I became the proud owner of Greg Easterbrook’s recent work, The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America. After eliminating every possible alternative short of cleaning my andirons, I sat down one rainy spring day not long ago and began reading Mssr. Easterbrook as he opined on my favorite sport, college football.

One thing was quickly apparent: our man Greg is NOT a fan of the game. Well, at least not in its current manifestation. His specific thesis can be summarized thusly: Football, on every level of play, involves too much money, not enough education, and oh Frank Beamer is just so DREAMY, isn’t he??? And noble. And honest. And has never done anything bad, EVER. He has never, according to our author, as much as burped at the dinner table.

Ok, I made those last couple of details up, but they feel true.

$25.99 on Amazon, but football shouldn't be about MONEY, man!
$25.99 on Amazon, but football shouldn’t be about MONEY, man!

It is true that, as a part of his research, Easterbrook spent time hanging around the Hokie football program, and apparently proceeded to have his pants charmed off by the old man in charge.

A few examples: He goes on and on about how Beamer and his staff care more about creating noble young citizens, and less about pesky details like winning. He then completely downplays the troubles of one Michael Vick, or his brother Marcus, or any of the other three dozen football names from recent Blacksburg police blotters. Just google “Virginia Tech arrests” and settle in for a nice long story of assaults, drugs, and larcenies to see the massive breadth of Easterbrook’s VPI blind spot.

In another example, Easterbrook claims that Frank Beamer eschews the normal police escort college coaches traditionally require because, gosh, he’s such a normal, everyman, nice guy. He then later casually drops in a tiny locker room bon mote that was relayed to him by the POLICEMAN ASSIGNED TO COACH BEAMER.

South Carolina and the Upstate Team both get a few mentions, but only in passing. Here’s a couple of quotes on our Gamecocks: “For example, the University of South Carolina, one the SEC colleges that is synonymous with great football and lax academics . . . .” and “The NCAA lowered the boom on Hampton University and North Carolina A&T but took no action on the University of South Carolina, a mega-money sports mecca that finished 2012 ranked eighth but graduates fewer than half its African-American football players.”

Its probably asking too much for Easterbrook to research the incredible progress Carolina has made with graduation rates in the past ten years.  Its also a tall order for him to know about our recent innovations such as football specific nutrition and the Dodie Academic Center.  Or that we are second only to Missouri in academic progress rate.  Instead, he just sees us as a super rich football powerhouse.  Gosh, Greg, go easy. We’re BLUSHING over here.

But to return to the main point; Easterbrook does make a strong argument for reform on several fronts, many of which aren’t completely crazy:

1) Six year scholarships for Division I football players. If you don’t make it to the BIGS, you still have time to get your degree. <–good idea
2) Blah, Blah, Blah something about student activity fees.
3) College Football rankings should factor in graduation rates. Stop laughing, he’s serious.
4) NCAA sanctions should follow the coach and not the school. <–needs more detail, but anything that Lane Kiffin would hate is probably a good start.
5) Don’t graduate your players? Well, you get a year’s suspension, coach, without pay. <–also a good concept, but how do you factor in strange juxtapositions like C.J. Spiller’s Honor Graduate status and his record low Wonderlic score?
6) Coaching bonus should only be for academic results. <–see above
7) Bowls, booster clubs, and stadium funds should lose their not-for-profit designation. <–eh, OK.
8) Helmet to Helmet should earn a one game suspension. <–Ok, that one’s DONE.
9) The 3 point stance should be eliminated.
10) Something about mouth guards. And helmets. And both are probably true.
11) End year-round football in high school. Also probably true.
12) No tackling until your reach eight grade. <–OK.
13) And a bunch of stuff about the NFL that sounds just fine to me.  Really, who would even care?

Other than the safety stuff, which was tedious but undoubtedly also reasonable, needed reform, Easterbrook is at his best when he aims his ire at the NFL oft-quoted TV disclaimer, “the use of this broadcast without the express written consent . . .”  He points out, quite profoundly, that the League shouldn’t have this kind of monopoly on the rights to an open-air event that is held in a publicly-financed stadium and arranged by a nonprofit, tax-free entity.

Right on, Greg!  Power to the people!

In the end, Easterbook does a good job in outlining some of the shortcomings of the game of football.  Skip all the Beamer love stuff (equaling approximately one third of the book) and get a strong refresher course on  all that ills the sport we love.

Oh, and he hates Alabama.

Now if we could just get him to poke around a little up at Clemson . . . .