Monday, February 20, 2012

Three and Out by John Bacon

What is it like to be a college football player? Or how about being hired to coach in one of the most pressure filled programs in the country? Enter John U. Bacon's Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football.

Bacon, a reporter based in Ann Arbor where the University of Michigan resides, was given incredible access for the whole three year reign of head coach Rich Rodriguez. Rich Rod, as he is known, became the Wolverines head coach in 2008 leaving the West Virginia team that he had built into a top tier program. The hiring was incredibly controversial, especially because Rich Rod didn't have any ties to U of M at all.

Instead of recounting more of the story, as fascinating as it is, I'll highlight a couple things that I learned about college football. According to Bacon, the relationship between university presidents and the football coach can be incredibly strained. Universities need football programs for the great amounts of money they generate, but head coaches can become legends and bigger than the university itself. This power makes many university presidents nervous and is why Rodriguez's tenure at WVU became strained and he even considered taking the job at Michigan.

Another interesting part of this story is the rise of U of M quarterback Denard Robinson. Being a student athlete is a rewarding yet tough situation that involves hours and hours of practice and travel along with the already busy schedule of being a student. While many are at the school on scholarship the players can't be paid in any way. So as Robinson became one of the nation's most exciting players, the school, the NCAA, the Big Ten and many others make millions of dollars on jerseys, tickets, products, advertising and more. Robinson, meanwhile, receives nothing and is put in the sometimes uncomfortable position of being the most famous person on campus.

There are many other things that Bacon brings to light including the politics of being a coach, recruiting high school athletes and the strange, illogical rules of the NCAA. Three and Out is a great way to learn more about a lot of the inner workings of college football. There are a couple of flaws to the book, the most obvious being a possible bias since Bacon seems to really love the university and became quite fond of Coach Rodriguez. Still, he really delves into what goes into running a football program and the pressure of living up to a storied history like the Wolverines have.

This is up there with my two favorite football books that I would also recommend. Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger chronicles a Texas high school team (and spawned a great movie and television series) and John Feinstein was allowed to follow the Baltimore Ravens for a year in a book called, Next Man Up: A Year Behind The Lines in Today's NFL. For more info on college football, student athletes and some of these debates, The Atlantic did a great article called The Shame of College Sports.

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