Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Gaul (Giant Steps, 1993) follows the money straight into the end zone, locker room, and alumni skybox.
“The notional idea that college football is still a game, as opposed to an elaborately rich entertainment, is rapidly receding from the American landscape of sports,” writes the author toward the end of an often aggrieved, often simply bemused account that finds him traveling the country to interview coaches, players, fundraisers, and assorted walk-on characters. Some of them have the quaint idea that college should be about academics and education; some maintain that football programs should bring money into the system rather than pumping it out; some even wonder why it is that in all but a few states the highest-paid public employee is the major college’s football coach. Gaul is fearless in his pursuit, which finds him in Texas stadium parking lots on the verge (perhaps) of getting pounded by overly zealous fans or in Alabama being sized up by an unimpressed assistant athletic director who’s certain that Gaul is “going to call us all a bunch of yahoos in your book for being passionate about a game.” “Yahoos” doesn’t really enter the picture, not when so much money is at stake, and the author’s dogged pursuit of the money story is made all the more interesting by the fact that public schools can hide behind NCAA rules of secrecy in financial reporting, requiring Gaul to use the Freedom of Information Act. How much money? Billions. So many billions, in fact, that many football programs behave as entities independent of their cash-strapped home institutions, where even the most title-laden professor is paid logarithmically less than an assistant coach in a winning football program.
Gaul’s reporting is unassailable, but watch as his conclusions stir up a furor in the sports press. You don’t even have to hate football to find this book valuable—and certainly worth reading.