Jeff Benedict pens new book from behind the college-football scenes
Great game! Nice job out there! After you talk to the reporters, grab a shower and get dressed, you head into the Saturday autumn twilight. There'll be cheerleaders and fans waiting for you, maybe a booster or two - and possibly even that big shot agent you're not supposed to have any contact with. There'll be parties tonight, of course - hell, who doesn't need to let off a little steam after a long week of practice and a big Homecoming victory?
If this scenario seems fairly vivid, maybe you actually played Division I NCAA football. Either that or you just finished reading "The System - The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football," the captivating and you-are-there bestseller co-written by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian.
Benedict, a Waterford native, appears Wednesday at the Waterford Public Library to discuss "The System" and sign copies of the book. He's the author of numerous bestsellers over the years on wide-ranging topics including forensic science, a fast-food E. coli scandal and - particularly familiar to local readers - New London's eminent domain case ("Little Pink House") and Indian gaming ("Without Reservation").
For the collaboration with Keteyian, he says it was a perhaps inevitable project; the two are long-time friends who have collaborated before.
"In 2011, Armen and I wrote two pieces for CBS/Sports Illustrated. One was on college football and crime, and the other was on college football and street gangs," says Benedict, on the phone from the Pacific Northwest on a signing tour. "We were in a hotel room in L.A. finishing the second story, and we realized we'd learned so much about college football that couldn't fit in the stories. It just instantly clicked. 'We could call it "The System." We immediately started diagrams and boxes about what made the system work - from coaches and boosters to recruiters, college presidents, tutors and, of course, the athletes."
The scope and breadth of college football - hundreds of programs as opposed, by contrast, to the 32 franchises in the National Football League - make it arguably the biggest business in sports. Benedict and Keteyian, dividing up the work load, spent months crisscrossing the country and visiting campuses. They followed threads ranging from profiles of top-level coaches like Nick Saban and Mike Leach to the world of recruiting; from sordid misbehavior and cover-ups to uplifting tales of redemption.
"The System" starts out describing the career of then-Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach, whose approach to passing strategy helped revolutionize the concept of offense. Compellingly, as the book was being written, Leach was fired from Tech after charges of inappropriate treatment of Adam James, son of former SMU and New England Patriots running back Craig James. Leach refused to acknowledge that he'd done anything wrong and would not make amends to Craig James.
Leach is now head coach at Washington State, but his troubles and successes are an accurate microcosm of the sport in general and provide several connective thematic chapters of fascinating detail and material throughout.
"There's no question we could have just done a book about Mike Leach," Benedict says, "and that can't be said about a lot of the characters in 'The System.' We certainly didn't want it to be one-dimensional, and we couldn't have anticipated what was going to happen with Adam James, but one of the reasons we pursued (Leach) was that he's interesting, colorful, and a visionary."
Other subjects in the book include the rape by athletes of a student athletic tutor; viciously competitive recruitment of blue-chip high-school stars by boosters and co-ed "hostesses"; Ohio State's notorious "tattoo-gate" scandal; and the focus on maximizing profits at huge programs like Michigan - where the machinations by support staff and behind-the-scenes movers would stagger Washington, D.C., insiders.
There are positive stories and lighthearted anecdotes, as well, including a tailgate party with Texas fan T. Boone Pickens and the redemptive story of Brigham Young linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
One of the issues facing the reporters was access. Given the complexity of major college athletics - and, admittedly, a lot of negative press - Keteyian and Benedict had to earn trust.
"For one thing, I can't think of one instance when we were dissuaded by any program," Benedict says. "But it's a slow process. You can't just walk up to a coach and say, 'Hey, I want to spend 50 hours a week with you over 6 months.' You get to know a coach as a person; know his wife and coaches. It's almost like going out on a blind date, but you gain traction over the course of a year."
Benedict says there's another, perhaps obvious, aspect to the work.
"We were as honest as we could be, and you don't go into it to try to hurt anyone. That doesn't mean you don't write what happened, but if you're honest, people respect that," he says.
Since "The System" was published, Benedict says he and Keteyian have heard from virtually all of the principal subjects.
"I think the general consensus is that we did it right," Benedict says. "We haven't had anyone who said, 'You got it wrong' or 'That wasn't fair' or 'That's not what I said and you took it out of context.'"
While Benedict says he's much more of a baseball fan than football, he enjoys the sport and doesn't feel the experiences of writing "The System" have darkened his view of college football.
"It's like seeing a movie two years ago - and then watching it again, only this time with 3-D glasses. I knew a lot about the game, but I'd never been in a locker room or on the sidelines or on the team bus or going through the academic records of players. You end up with a completely different and enhanced perspective."
IF YOU GO
Who: Jeff Benedict, co-author with Armen Keteyian of "The System - The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football"
What: Discussing and signing copies
Where: Waterford Public Library, 49 Rope Ferry Road, Waterford
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
How much: Free; copies of "The System" available for purchase
For more information: (860) 444-5805, waterfordpubliclibary.org, jeffbenedict.com
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