'The System' a great read on college football's inner workings

The System

Armen Keteyian spent seven years as the chief investigative correspondent for "CBS News." For years, he's been a contributing correspondent for "60 Minutes" and is currently the lead reporter for "60 Minutes Sports." He previously worked for Sports Illustrated and "HBO Real Sports." He's won 11 Emmys and has reported around the globe, written bestselling books and uncovered corruption in nearly every walk of life.

And nothing was quite the challenge of tackling college football.

"This was the most ambitious project I've ever taken on," Keteyian told Yahoo! Sports, discussing his new book, "The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football," co-written by Jeff Benedict of Sports Illustrated.

" 'The System' is what runs college football and it both entertains and builds people and institutions up and it tears them down," Keteyian said. "You can be used by it, abused by it, churned up by it. So many people have had their life changed by getting in the middle of it, for better and worse."

Here's the brief recommendation: It's the best book on the sport written in years (and that's coming from someone who has written a couple). "The System" will shock casual fans as the saturation reporting peels back the veneer on everything from coaching politics, to sexual tension in tutoring labs, to the role of recruiting hostesses, to back-stabbing conference realignment, to super boosters, and so on.

Even the hardcore fans, though, will be surprised – everyone knows this is a wild business, just not in such detail. It also serves as a mini-recap of recent college football history, tying together the hot stories from the past five years, ranging from Ohio State to Tennessee to Texas Tech to BYU and so on and so on.

It's a heck of a book. I'm not sure what else I can say to encourage you to read it.



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And it is sure to make plenty of waves as the original reporting by Keteyian and Benedict inspires reactions. Here are some of the highlights from an advance copy provided to Yahoo! Sports:

• A thorough retelling of the Ohio State "tattoogate" scandal including the previously unreported transcripts of NCAA interviews by Jim Tressel and athletic director Gene Smith.

You can see Tressel hanging himself with his own words as he tries to explain his cover-up of the scandal that doomed his career and led to major sanctions against the program. Meanwhile, on a separate issue, Smith is vague on some details but claims he was forceful in multiple conversations with booster Bobby DiGeronimo, who was cited for overpaying players for work at his companies and later banned from associating with the Buckeyes for the next 10 years.

That leads to DiGeronimo, who speaks publicly for the first time, to slam Smith, claiming the two never had the conversations Smith claims they did.

"Never," DiGeronimo said. "Never called me. Never called me one time. Never. We never had a conversation about that. There was nothing. He's lying. He's outright lying. Never any meeting. Never any voicemail. Everything he says is a lie. Everything."

Smith declined to comment on the book.

"The System" also presents the case that NCAA investigators were overzealous in parts of their investigation against Ohio State, most notably in ignoring some pretty compelling evidence that DiGeronimo overpaid player DeVier Posey by a mere $3.07 and should never have received a five-game suspension for that. It also shows the seemingly differing and troubling standards for players and coaches/administrators, where the former must recall every detail precisely or risk eligibility, while the latter is allowed to struggle with specifics.

• Also speaking publicly for the first time is Lacey Pearl Earps – the infamous Tennessee recruiting hostess dubbed "The Closer" by Volunteer coaches for her ability to connect with top high school players.

Earps details the bizarre system of the hostess business, where pretty, personable, well-trained college women are used as bait to lure top talent. Even if they don't have physical relationships with high school players (and some certainly do), they are encouraged to engage in at least pseudo romantic relationships through social media, text and Skype for months on end. All of this comes with the approval and encouragement of athletic department officials and highly paid coaches.

"Our job was to flirt with them," Earps said.

At one point, Bryce Brown, a running back from Kansas and the No. 1 recruit in America, told then-Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin he wanted to make a last-minute unofficial visit to Knoxville. Kiffin called Earps, who had hosted Brown during a previous visit and was in near constant contact with him.

"I asked [Brown] what he wanted to do," Earps said Kiffin told her. "[Brown] said, 'Coach, all I want to do is hang out with Lacey.' So will you take him out?" When she agreed, Kiffin gave her $40 for expenses. She hung out with him for a couple days and he signed with the Vols.

[Related: Suspended LSU RB Jeremy Hill could travel with team for season opener]

The next fall, according to Earps, Kiffin strongly encouraged her and another hostess to make what turned out to be an NCAA-illegal visit to a high school football game in Duncan, S.C. It was there that the dolled-up UT coeds held a sign for some potential recruits, had their photo snapped and became the center of a New York Times' expose and an NCAA investigation.

While Earps said she was hung out to dry by the university and coaching staff when the scandal broke, it was Kiffin who applauded the idea of traveling 200 miles to the high school game while his brother-in-law, also an assistant coach, provided $40 in gas money for the trip. She says it was a common deal, where the hostesses were encouraged to do anything to draw in players, even obvious NCAA violations.

Earps insists she never had a physical relationship with a recruit, but acknowledges purposefully leading the players on. "These are high school boys," she said. "They have one thing on their mind."

"From the athletic department's perspective, it didn't matter how the recruit got there," she said. "Whatever it took. A lot of people turned a blind eye. That was very unsettling to me."

The entire chapter is unbecoming of a university.

• Even worse is the story of the University of Missouri student-athlete tutoring culture, which is paramount in keeping players eligible for competition. "The System" lays out the profoundly bad idea of college girls being paired with football and basketball players – who are often academically disinterested and physically exhausted – for apparently lightly supervised one-on-one work.

The result: an environment of sexually provocative conversations; rampant hook-ups; tutors just doing the athletes' schoolwork themselves; and, most terribly, in the case of star running back Derrick Washington, a 2010 sexual assault of his clean-cut, serious-minded tutor that sent him to prison.

The victim in that case spoke publicly for the first time to the authors and revealed her horrifying ordeal while blowing up the entire system. Washington, his parents and other key witnesses also spoke candidly about what went wrong at Mizzou.

As local prosecutor Andrea Hayes, who investigated the tutoring program, said, "Too many tutors were having sex with the athletes, and really filthy conversations were going on between players and girls. It was a sexually charged environment. It was a joke – the whole tutorial situation."

• There's an in-depth look into Texas Tech's controversial firing of Mike Leach, including the first extensive comments from Craig James, whose son Adam was at the center of the situation. In a story often told with wild swings of perspective, "The System" makes a pretty even-handed, perspective-rich review. Just about every key player in the drama speaks candidly.

The details, which, at times, make everyone look bad and everyone look good, go into the darkened closet Adam James famously filmed himself in, the judges' chambers of a Lubbock courthouse just moments before Leach's firing and even Leach's hotel room when he heard the news. It shows how the System can leave both administration and coach in untenable positions where each must act in what is likely proper self-preservation, even if it means mutual destruction.

The precise details of Leach's eventual hiring at Washington State is told via the coach and athletic director Bill Moos, who is shown in a separate chapter deftly controlling Pac-12 realignment and revenue sharing deals.

• Much time is spent on Alabama and coach Nick Saban, whose process and ensuing success has come to define this mini-era of college football. Saban grants the authors perhaps unprecedented access, and there is an extensive retelling about how the Crimson Tide lured Saint Nick to Tuscaloosa.

• Recruiting is a huge focus in the book, ranging from the rise of 7-on-7 teams, the task of NCAA investigators trying to control things and even a chapter on the pursuit of Sealy (Texas) High School star Ricky Seals-Jones.

Seals-Jones, once a Texas commit who wound up signing with Texas A&M last February, and his family open themselves up to the entire process. The juiciest part is an alleged offer to the Jones family from a "top-20 program" – not A&M – for the following: $300,000 in cash, use of a luxury suite during football season, eight season tickets and $1,000 per month for Ricky and $500 for the family.

"Oh, it was higher than that," Chester Jones, Ricky's dad said. "It was a lot higher than that." Chester Jones said the offers grew as high as $600,000 for his son's signature on a national letter of intent – one SEC school and one ACC school said they'd double any offer – but he declined them all out of principle and the fear of inevitably getting caught.

There's more, lots more. The business-first approach at Michigan to maximize profits of "The Brand." The challenges faced by the NCAA enforcement staff. The roles played by de facto "team lawyers," directors of football operations and even local strip club owners.

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.

There isn't a wasted chapter in the book.

"The difference between the way I used to watch college football to now is like putting on 3-D glasses," Benedict said. "It's much more dimensional. The depth of the problem is much more pronounced. Yet before this, I didn't appreciate the upside. Despite the obnoxious number of physical injuries, the exploitation of student-athletes and the overabundance of money, there is also a lot of inspiring elements of college football which helps explain why more Americans tune into this game than any other game.

"I certainly appreciate the complexities more now than ever before."

There's just no way a college football fan won't devour this book.

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