Present-day big time NCAA college football is founded on three Big Lies: 1) players are not employees; 2) coaches are gods; and 3) the NCAA and their local schools are not-for profit. Part of the reason those Big Lies persist is that, as Pulitzer Prize winner Sara Ganim has said about Penn State, they operate behind a Kremlin-like veil of secrecy. That veil has a number of different components, the primary of which is the use by Athletic Departments of an extraordinarily broad, if not bizarre, interpretation of the “Buckley” amendment, a federal statute (FERPA) originally passed to protect a student’s educational-related documents. The end result is that much of what goes on day-to-day in big-time college football is shielded from public view — which not only helps perpetuate the Three Big Lies, but also encourages bad behaviors of almost every nature and kind.
In this context, Nick Perry and Ken Armstrong’s 2010 book, Scoreboard Baby: A Story of College Football Crime and Complicity, is a canary – originally lowered down into the dark, shadowy “mine” of University of Washington football run by Huckster Head Coach Rick Neuheisel and glitzy AD Barbara Hedges –
— as a part of the extraordinary, diligent and dispassionate investigative efforts of authors Perry and Armstrong — and then brought back up to the strong daylight where the authors use their down-to-earth analytical and narrative skills to show us a canary not just asphyxiated, but brutally beheaded: college football is a dysfunctional, corrupt mess.
The canary is figuratively murdered below by the raging, win-at-all-cost corrupt operations of Washington football and its’ administrators. It’s a riveting tale, which centers on the people and the numerous crimes committed (or allegedly committed) by countless UW football players — with some, like star tight end Jerramy Stevens, committing not just one, but a series of crimes which can’t all be totalled-up with ten fingers.
What makes this perhaps the best in-depth look at that beheaded canary-in-the-mine which is college sports, though, is that Perry and Armstrong are among the very few characters to have both thoroughly and completely descended to the bottom of any of college football’s many mineshafts, and to also stay long enough to absorb every detail. And because so many such operations are aggressively hidden from the public’s view, Perry and Armstrong’s trenchant reporting leads to to one conclusion: every other big time football school has the same toxic, profit-and-win-mania, and the same collection of under-educated, economically disadvantaged and often crime-ridden players, taking the same kinds of ersatz, fill-in-the-blanks courses. It’s a very disturbing, but compelling picture.