Read billion dollar ball a journey through the big money culture of college football by Gilbert M. Gaul Online


• A Boston Globe Best Book of 2015 •“A penetrating examination of how the elite college football programs have become ‘giant entertainment businesses that happened to do a little education on the side.’”—Mark Kram, The New York TimesTwo-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Gilbert M. Gaul offers a riveting and sometimes shocking look inside the money culture of college f• A Boston Globe Best Book of 2015 •“A penetrating examination of how the elite college football programs have become ‘giant entertainment businesses that happened to do a little education on the side.’”—Mark Kram, The New York TimesTwo-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Gilbert M. Gaul offers a riveting and sometimes shocking look inside the money culture of college football and how it has come to dominate a surprising number of colleges and universities.  Over the past decade college football has not only doubled in size, but its elite programs have become a $2.5-billion-a-year entertainment business, with lavishly paid coaches, lucrative television deals, and corporate sponsors eager to slap their logos on everything from scoreboards to footballs and uniforms. Profit margins among the top football schools range from 60% to 75%—results that dwarf those of such high-profile companies as Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft—yet thanks to the support of their football-mad representatives in Congress, teams aren’t required to pay taxes. In most cases, those windfalls are not passed on to the universities themselves, but flow directly back into their athletic departments.College presidents have been unwilling or powerless to stop a system that has spawned a wildly profligate infrastructure of coaches, trainers, marketing gurus, and a growing cadre of bureaucrats whose sole purpose is to ensure that players remain academically eligible to play. From the University of Oregon’s lavish $42 million academic center for athletes to Alabama coach Nick Saban’s $7 million paycheck—ten times what the school pays its president, and 70 times what a full-time professor there earns—Gaul examines in depth the extraordinary financial model that supports college football and the effect it has had not only on other athletic programs but on academic ones as well.What are the consequences when college football coaches are the highest paid public employees in over half the states in an economically troubled country, or when football players at some schools receive ten times the amount of scholarship awards that academically gifted students do? Billion-Dollar Ball considers these and many other issues in a compelling account of how an astonishingly wealthy sports franchise has begun to reframe campus values and distort the fundamental academic mission of our universities.From the Hardcover edition....

Title : billion dollar ball a journey through the big money culture of college football
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billion dollar ball a journey through the big money culture of college football Reviews

  • victor harris
    2019-02-06 06:08

    The author interviews an assortment of staff associated with the industry of college football and crunches the revenue numbers to reach the not terribly surprising conclusion that big-time football programs have become an unregulated entity onto their own, with not the most flattering of results. At many places the athletic departments operate independently of the rest of the university and are subject to little or no oversight. Although college presidents have preached the mantra of reform for decades, few have been courageous enough to challenge high-profile, highly paid coaches and the corruption in academics and finance march on. Those that do have the gumption to initiate change or exert discipline do so at peril to their employment and even safety.Basically the major powers are beholden to no one except the TV networks or private benefactors like Phil Knight of Nike who keep flooding the system with the dollar bounty to enable such operations. As long as the money spigot flows unabated there is probably no hope for reform. Congress even made some feeble gestures to address the issue but got slapped down by football-crazed constituents, so you can guess the outcome of that effort. Among the stops Gaul made in his tour were Alabama, Oregon, and Texas. All are good test cases of how pervasive the dollar/football/media fusion has become and the power wielded by coaches and boosters. One positive side benefit of the hysteria is the elevating of women's sports because of Title IX regulations which apply to gender equality. Women's rowing programs were among those that prospered and flourished because of such legislation. Unfortunately, there are many Division I programs such as New Mexico St. that attempt to compete with the talent and finance stocked programs and have to resort to raising student fees to finance their teams in order to stay afloat. Despite dismal results they persist in their folly, largely to the detriment of the school overall. Any outcry against remaining in the talent arms race gets dismissed with the shallow rebuttal that " football is good for the school image and gives the school good publicity." In theory that raises the profile by attracting more students. Students who no doubt can enjoy lesser facilities and scholarship money while the star athletes enjoy their lives of royalty. Very readable, excellent mix of analysis and data.

  • Taro Yamashita
    2019-01-30 04:11

    Just got tired of reading about how big, bad college football was ruining the academic goals of higher education. At this point, I've read enough to know this, and to believe the basic arguments thereof. This did not offer much insight beyond that.Beer and Circus was a similarly themed book from years ago. While that book seems to be more generalized, whereas this was more focused on football, I felt that the narrow focus on football in this book actually made it less interesting to me. The overall impact of college athletics on college academics seems to be one that needs a "big picture" view, and this narrow focus on football leaves too many loose strands for me to question. What about the other sports?In any case, I wasn't so engaged with this book as to be motivated to come up with good questions about it or related to it.

  • Denise Anderson
    2019-02-14 06:55

    Well researched book...unfortunately it was hitting too close to home as I was reading and getting more and more frustrated with the business that has become college football. Don't get me wrong, I love to watch football and cheer loudly for the home team but I am often torn between being disgusted by the excess and seeing first hand the short straw that the academic side of things draw in the battle for dollars.

  • Amy
    2019-02-07 05:47

    Albeit a bit dry, this extremely well-researched book is an eye-opening examination of the economics and politics surrounding the industry of college football.Author, Gilbert Gaul breaks down each aspect of the business end of the game that has contributed to what college football is, today. Gaul has done his homework. He spent countless hours speaking to the people who are IN THE KNOW about the inner workings of this sport, as well as college football’s relationship with other NCAA varsity sports. Gaul looked and spoke with representatives from various schools and organizations across the country, but he stayed focused on the 5 “power conferences” in Division-I football – SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12.As I said, Gaul’s focus was on the power conferences. In turn, he looked at the biggest football programs in the nation – Texas, Penn State, Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame, Boise State, Michigan, etc. More than a decade ago, America’s largest and most prestigious universities were already spending ten times more on football players than on their smartest, most ambitious students. Penn State, for example, game $2,250 scholarships to the students in its Honors College. By comparison, a football player on a full scholarship received $25,000 in aid, and this gap has only widened. Today, a football scholarship costs about $50,000, while an Honors College Scholarship is $4,500.At this point, and for the rest of the book, I kept thinking, “Why are we putting so much emphasis on education and academics at the elementary and secondary level?” Twenty plus years ago, the trend was to teach “Whole Language” (as opposed to phonics), then we went to “No Child Left Behind,” and now, Common Core. After reading this book, I have to wonder why we even bother.A “new” financial model for college football shows that the largest and richest programs pocket about $2.5 billion from television broadcasts, luxury suite rentals, seat donations, and corporate advertising, while others scrap by to make ends meet.The flood of cash – nearly all tax free, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of senators and congressman from football-mad states – had also fundamentally altered the core mission of these schools. Now, instead of touting their educational offerings, they now promoted their football programs because football was exciting and attracted media attention.To justify “football” spending, the presidents of these fine, upstanding universities developed a business model to turn their athletic departments into separate businesses and their athletic director’s to fund for themselves. In other words, athletic departments, and more specifically, football teams, would have to pay their own way. Be careful what you wish for!So, like professional sports, it is now tough for a regular person to afford to attend a ballgame because one of the ways these schools make money is by asking their fans to pay a “Voluntary Seat Donation” to secure premium seating. At Texas, to get four seats on the 50-yard line, you will pay approximately $20,000. At Georgia, you will pay a seat fee at [a minimum] of $250 for a not-so-great seat.Television has also played an increasingly important role. In the late 70’s, the IRS decided that college football powers should not have to pay taxes on the broadcast fees from networks. Their logic was that watching a game on TV was the same as watching it in person. The IRS didn’t tax the games, themselves, so why tax the broadcast(s)? However, the NCAA limited the number of times a school could appear on TV. Interestingly enough, in 1984, the Supreme Court decided that the NCAA limits violated antitrust provisions freeing the major football conferences to start to negotiate with TV networks on behalf of member schools. In 2013, the Big 12 passed along $21 million to Texas, with most of that coming from television fees.Football powers also collected millions in royalties and licensing fees whenever their logos were printed on items. Millions more poured in from corporate advertising.As of 2012, the most profitable college football teams were (in order): Texas, Michigan, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Penn State, Notre Dame, LSU, and Arkansas.Texas has a motto: “We eat what we kill.” It means that Texas spends every penny it takes in from football and other sports. If that means spending $200,000 or more on its football players (yes, you read that right) to keep them happy and fit, so be it.Football also [often] pays for non-revenue sports such as track & field, field hockey, women’s rowing, etc.The costs associated with administrative overhead at these universities are astronomical!!!!!The comparison and analysis between large and small schools, in regards to the number of varsity sports offered, as well as the number of athletes participating was intriguing. Some schools, like Texas, are very focused on what sports programs they offer, while others, such as tiny Haverford College, offer more opportunities for athletes interested in playing sports at the college level. Schools in the Ivy League have a motto – “Education through athletics.” They believe that if you think you can play a varsity sport, they want to give you that opportunity. Now, think about what I’ve already written. Athletics and Academics are considered separate entities within a university, and are therefore, receiving separate funding. Next, I read that “football is an important part of Penn State’s educational missions, and as such, it is considered a charitable activity, and is protected from paying taxes.” Who makes up this BS?To be fair, the IRS tried to tax (in this case) football seat donations in the mid-80’s, but was blocked by CONGRESS! Congress passed legislation in 1988 allowing college football fans to deduct 80% of the cost of their “donations.” FYI: That works out to approx. $250 million annually in lost taxes, or $2.5 billion over 10 years, according to the US Treasury Dept. estimates!Where revenues go was riveting. For people who think they’re helping a student go to school? Probably not. Most of the top football schools spend 10% or less on scholarships. No, most of your “donation” is allocated to salaries, debt, and that infamous administrative overhead.The analysis for the rationale of hiring head coaches and paying them obscene amounts of $$$$ was mind-blowing! We now have overinflated egos who are paid overinflated salaries, and for what? Don’t get me wrong. I like college football, but I think our priorities are skewered. No wonder college athletes think they should be paid!One interesting comparison: the CEO of the American Red Cross, Gail J. McGovern, is paid $500,000 to oversee a $3.2 billion organization. Nick Saban (Alabama) is paid $6.5 million to run an $82 million football business. Ask yourself whether coaching college football is really that much harder than running a huge complex charity that supplies half of the nation’s blood and responds to hurricanes, fires, and other disasters.The discussion regarding the University of Akron and their football program was most interesting, as I live and work close to Akron. Further reading about Larry Kehres and his role at Division-III, University of Mount Union, was inspiring and the most positive story to come out of this book!The chapter dealing with “Walkers” and their responsibilities was absorbing, but not surprising. While the rest of the student body is expected to assume some responsibility and show up for class on their own, football players are treated like they are in elementary school. I learned more about Title IX than I ever thought I needed / wanted to know. Women’s Rowing? Really?The debt that universities are willing to go into to fund state of the art educational / tutoring facilities for their “student athletes” (and I use this term, loosely) is mind-boggling. These kids are here to play football. Why waste money on a super nice learning facility that they are not going to appreciate?While we love football in Ohio, we have NOTHING on football in the South! “It’s almost a Civil War mentality – civic pride.”“Media Days” was educational. One kid, Griffin Hamstead, age 15, was there promoting his product. He’s the author of a blog called “Teens for Tennessee,” which showcases opinion, statistics, and random musings on the University of Tennessee football team.The section dealing with “The Color of Money,” and more specifically licensing of merchandise in regards to items “tied” to the University of Alabama was captivating, and a little freaky. It also made me think a lot about questions that I and fellow Ohio alumni have about Ohio State University and the use of our logo (as ruled in a court of law) and what type of royalties our school (Ohio) might be receiving.Every few years, college presidents do realize that they have created a monster, and in turn, conduct a study for how to fix things in the world of college football. They realize they need to be disciplinarian, but nobody is brave enough to take the first step off that platform, so they shelve the study, and a few years later, the process starts all over again. However, towards the end of this book, one university president / chancellor makes a different suggestion. Whether the idea will ever take root is anyone’s guess. In the end, there are over 100 Division-I schools. The 5 power conferences, mentioned earlier, consider themselves the elite of the elite, and have positioned themselves to try and block any interloper(s) from invading their sacred space. Case in point: Boise State.Gaul: The notational idea that college football is still a game, as opposed to an elaborately rich entertainment is rapidly receding from the American landscape of sports. In July of 2014, Senator Jay Rockefeller (WV) held a hearing. During this time, he said, “Playing college sports is supposed to be an avocation. There’s a growing perception that college athletics, particularly Division-I football and basketball, are not avocations at all. What they really are is highly profitable enterprises. This country is now so soaked in the culture of ESPN, … it’s undermining our values. I’ll tell you one thing for sure: I think it’s undermining our commitment to education.” Ding, Ding, Ding! Bingo! I doubt anything will ever change, but at least one senator gets it!Finally, I disagree with the idea that college athletes should be paid. They receive a lot of benefits that the average student can only dream about. They have no idea how the other 99% + (Ohio State has 0.02% of their undergraduates participating in sports) of their classmates live.At the end, Gaul provides a great theory that could prove right for the future. It will be interesting to see what path college football takes.

  • James
    2019-02-18 23:52

    Gaul argued that college football is hugely profitable for a few elite football schools in premier conferences, but leaves much to be desired for fans, smaller schools, football schools outside of elite conferences, players’ education, and collegiate educational priorities in general. A huge support system goes into maintaining big football programs, from arms race in coaching salaries to funding women’s rowing to meet Title IX requirements to tutors and walkers to make sure football players meet grade requirements. Big elite football schools focus on their football programs, which pays for other sports but offers less of them total. Places like Texas, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Notre Dame, LSU, and Penn State operate with different rules for the football program than the rest of the universities.The book breaks down issues into separate chapters. Chapter one analyses the “Guilded Age” of College Football, with the top programs at the top spending every dime they make on football programs, such at Texas who’s athletic department is “we eat what we kill”, meaning everything goes back to football. Chapter two looks at how football programs are considered charities, meaning they can strong arm customers into “donating” to keep their seats for tax writeoffs, as well as give perks to those who donate more. Chapter three details how football head coaches are often the highest paid public employee of a university and that their salaries keep spiking in order to keep up with elite football universities. Chapter four demonstrates the vast support network for football players, including tutors to boost grades, walkers to make sure students get to class, and rule bending for football players, and in some extreme cases, no show classes for football players. Chapter five moves into the Southern domination of college football, noting how much of an institution places like Alabama or Texas are. Accordingly, the football programs are aggressive about protecting their logos and colors, to the point of threatening and sometimes actually suing small businesses who use them. Chapter six shows the boom of women’s rowing programs over the last ten years, in places that don’t seem like natural rowing power houses, but is important to meet Title IX of having equalish number of women’s athletics to men’s. Finally, chapter seven illustrates that university presidents realize the extent of the runaway problem of collegiate athletics unbalancing educational priorities yet do little to stop or reform it.Key Themes and Concepts-The main problem is that athletic programs have been allowed to operate as independent semiautonomous to larger universities, meaning elite football programs spend to their hearts content and are hugely profitable, but it also means the vast majority of football programs have to be subsidized in order to keep up with the top 10.

  • Paul Pessolano
    2019-01-25 02:11

    “Billion-Dollar Ball” by Gilbert M. Gaul, published by Viking.Category – Sports/Football Publication Date – August 25, 2015.This book is a must for any college football fan. This book is an investigative look at college football by a two time Pulitzer Prize winner. Gilbert M. Gaul looks into the many questions the majority of us have wondered about. The reader will be staggered at the amount of money (billions) that are generated by the elite college football programs, and the truly unbelievable salaries of college coaches and their assistants. These monies are generated by TV revenues, especially ESPN who OWNS just about every Bowl game. The incredible cost of attending a college game, especially if one is a holder of season tickets or purchaser of a luxury box, not only is one paying a high price for their seats but they also must donate to a college fund in order to be eligible for these seats. One must also question why the cost of seats is tax deductable.You may also have wondered what kind of courses these student athletes are taking and, what degrees they are working towards.Many great questions and many great answers, a highly readable book that will be of great interest to the sports fan.

  • Dad
    2019-01-21 02:04

    This book was exactly as my daughter stated and she accurately predicted how I would evaluate it. It contains some very interesting and noteworthy facts which should rightfully trouble a football fan at one of the major schools. But the author here has an agenda that permeates throughout and detracts from what should have been a neutral and unbiased account. Go watch lacrosse or women's rowing if you want but I'll still favor watching USC v Notre Dame on Thanksgiving weekend any year...

  • Jeanne
    2019-02-18 04:12

    This was a very well written and extensively researched book. I am interested in the subject matter but I think it would hold most people's attention. It talks about big time college football and the effect it has on universities, faculty, and athletes. It is a pretty grim picture and this book really highlights the destruction of the concept of the scholar-athlete in the revenue sports.

  • Tom Blumer
    2019-01-28 05:57

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It confirms many things that I already suspected, but I did not know the magnitude of the problem.

  • Nathan Albright
    2019-02-07 02:04

    I found in reading this book that while I appreciated the author's wit, the author's politics had a clear negative side for me.  A great deal of the vitriol that the author shows for the context of college football appears to be his socialist leanings and his opposition to capitalism and the workings of college football as a market.  Now, plenty of criticisms could be made about college football [1] and its nature as a cartel, but this author's problems appear to be of a different nature than my own are.  That does not mean that this is a bad book.  It is, in fact, a pretty good book, and certainly an entertaining read about a corrupt business that takes odd and surprising angles.  That said, everything the author says has to be read with a critical eye, as the author's worldview and approach are ones that cannot simply be trusted or taken at face value.  If you have critical feelings about college football as a business and the way that academic institutions prostitute themselves for revenue sports, this is a good book to read, but be prepared to have some critical feelings about the author as well.In terms of its contents, this is a book of slightly more than 200 pages of material that begins with a look at Penn State and the author's thoughts on real universities.  After that the author bloviates about this being the guilded age of college football and comments that college football is an unusual charity with its demand for seat deposit donations in order for people to obtain season tickets.  The author then turns to a look at colleges paying their coaches not to coach--here's looking at you, Charlie Weis, who turned the enviable trick of being paid not to coach by both Notre Dame and Kansas.  The author takes a walk through a university campus with someone who is hired to help college athletes go to class and then looks at why the SEC wins at football so much.  The book then closes with a look at how women's rowing provides key numbers of female athletes to balance out football teams for Title XI purposes and a look at how college presidents fumbled the chance for reform of the athletic systems.  The book then comments on the fate of poor little colleges that spend a lot of money to keep up with the Joneses and notes on sources as well as acknowledgements and an index.The author clearly prefers an egalitarian model where universities recruit only serious students and eschew the changes that result from corporate sponsorship and fund their sports in an egalitarian fashion.  If we wanted our universities to have a socialist and egalitarian mindset, that would not be a bad thing--clearly the author wishes to be consistent with his worldview, even if it's one I don't agree with.  Even for those who do not like the mindset of the author, though, there is clearly something wrong when taxpayers and students are supporting through increased fees mediocre to poor football teams that should be competing on lower and less demanding levels.  The question is, what do we want college football to look like, and who has the power to do anything about it?  So long as people watch games and buy tickets and jerseys and cheer on teams, not much is likely to change.  Whether or not that is a good thing is up to each and every person to decide for themselves.  I see no problem with college football being a big business, so long as we are all aware of the dangers to players and everyone is compensated fairly for their efforts.  The author, though, seems to have a different goal in mind in seeking to delegitimize college sports because it is such a profitable business.[1] See, for example:

  • Tom
    2019-01-21 03:13

    Very interesting read, pretty quick and hits on a number of different examples. The part on the University of Alabama going after a local baker and artist were really indicative of the times. I'm curious how college football does long term; it seems the rise in the popularity of the NFL lead to a huge spike in revenues and interest in college football. If the NFL continues to decline - and a part of that decline is a decline in the pool of available talent - what will be the knock-0n effect for college football? Currently the Top 25 seems weak and not very deep; they have so many bowl games that teams with losing records get invited now. I think it's only going to get worse and eventually there will be 10 top teams and then everyone else.

  • Don
    2019-02-12 22:44

    An account of the big money culture that pervades college football, this was an interesting look at the circumstances that created the often detrimental dependence of universities on their football programs. Definitely thought-provoking albeit clearly biased against those who overly value the role that college football plays in the university experience.

  • Ryan Splenda
    2019-02-19 03:59

    The more books that I read about the criticisms of college football, the more dismayed I become about this sport (business). It is very difficult too because this is my sport of choice. However, it is undeniable to see some of the negative impacts of the commercialization, branding, and marketing of this "amateur" sport. Gilbert Gaul's stinging and sarcastic analysis of big-time college football leaves one questioning what are the true purposes of academic institutions and also what does this say about American culture in general. This book goes hand-in-hand with Keteyian's and Benedict's book, The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football. A must-read for all college football fans that are willing to take a serious look at the sport.

  • Brendan
    2019-02-09 02:59

    If you root for any college team, this book is well worth the read. It goes into great detail about how college athletics is structured in the modern university era. The author spends a good amount talking about Big XII schools, so much of the research is relevant. Now for my rants:After reading this, I'm convinced more than ever that men's football and basketball should break off and be minor league sports with no ties to a university. The amount of money generated by this and how it is distributed among the NCAA and athletic department and university officials and men playing the game is ridiculous. If it were a not a non-profit league, you would see quite a bit more fairness to the men playing the game than the stupid rules that are put in place like one-and-done in basketball or players choosing between declaring for the draft vs. playing another year. The fact that mandatory "donations" to the athletic department are considered a charity so that both the "donor" can deduct it from their taxes and the department doesn't have to report goes to illustrate what a sham a lot of this is. I enjoy watching college sports and rooting for K-State, but after seeing how much coaches get paid and the contortions schools go through to keep students eligible to play, it is silly. Have a minor league system, like baseball. Schools can still operate athletics give out scholarships to true student athletes. We might see a resurgence in men's Olympic sports, like wrestling, with a new minor league system. The reason the Olympic sports are down is because of Title IX compliance (which I think is very important in giving women much needed athletic opportunities) and the fact that football needs so many scholarships. To comply universities cut other men's sports because there is not an equivalent women's sport that uses that many scholarships.In the end, good, education read.

  • Christina Dudley
    2019-01-31 22:58

    We Americans love our entertainment. So much so that we're not too worried about what goes on behind the scenes, as long as we're given a good show.I already knew college football was a thing unto itself, collecting millions and millions while being tax-exempt, and I already knew that the combination of college football and Title IX were the reason there are more women's college swim teams than men's college swim teams, but author Gilbert Gaul still manages to surprise and disturb with his researched exploration.Basically, the power football conferences are reaping great benefits for their players and coaching staffs, with a little shared glow (but zero $) cast on the university campuses that host them. Football players at such school receive thousands and thousands of dollars in "scholarships," the best facilities, tons of "academic support," and swag, and the smart ones among them are outnumbered by the jocks who can hardly be bothered to go to class, much less excel. Having been involved with the college admissions process, I know desired jocks in all sports have the admissions process easier, but at least your average college swimmers and rowers and runners and golfers have to make a semblance of meeting the admissions standards, even if they'd be waitlisted without their athletic talents giving them a leg up. There's so much money involved in football that a school will leap at recruiting a talented kid, even if he barely cleared high school because the high school was excusing him from academics for the same reasons.With three kids headed for college in the next five years, reading this book made me want to push them toward non-Div-I schools. Let the money and the efforts of the school go toward academics. Heaven knows there's enough college football on TV that you can just pick your favorite school, subsidize it with your cable subscription fees, and call it good.

  • Scott Dillow
    2019-02-04 23:50

    First, I must say that this is probably the first book I've read in the investigative journalism genre. While not a HUGE college football fan, I must admit to it being my favorite sport to watch, and my alma mater gets a fair share of ink in this book.I had heard a brief story on the book on NPR and decided to check out the book and the author's bio. I expected the author to be a sports insider, most likely a sports reporter. He wasn't. He's a real investigative reporter with years of experience and even a big award under his belt, definitely capable of exposing the big money inherent in college football and the evils it causes. We all know there's big money behind college football.But this is my issue with the book. I would think most readers choosing this book have more than a passing knowledge of college football and also have some suspicions on the corruption behind the scenes. Every year there's scandal after scandal highlighted in the media. This book solidifies those suspicions, and in the first couple pages too. But after the preface, the author seems to spend a lot of time hopping about the country interviewing retired people or people who have little interest in exposing their universities skeletons. While the numbers and facts the author presents are eye-opening, the reader looking for the grand conspiracy or Deepthroat "gotcha" moment will be dismayed. You're left thinking: "I knew it was bad, now I know how bad". I guess I wanted that damning interview with an administrative assistant that blows the whole thing up. Instead I get an in-depth chapter on women's rowing. I'm going with three, maybe three and a half stars. The book has definitely changed the way I view the game, and caused me to rethink some of my opinions on the sport, namely paying the players, player education and scholarships, and coaching salaries. If you enjoy the sport and are a little intrigued by what you read in the media, I'd recommend you give this a read.

  • Nick
    2019-02-10 01:05

    This book was an interesting trip through the finances of college sports at the Division I level. From (relatively) little Boise St to big-time Alabama and every place in between that would let the author have any sort of access (lots of places refused). Most of it is not especially surprising to anyone who follows college sports, but it is still a shock to see the numbers and magnitude of what is going on money-wise. It is also shocking, to me at least, that much of the rapid growth has taken place in just the past few years. I went to a big-time college football school 15 years ago, and I thought it was huge and out-of-control then, but according to this that was still prehistoric times!Something has to give eventually, and that seems to be the clear premise of the book. Though the author's conclusion that today's kids and their short attention spans and electronic devices will soon bore of going to football games seems a little hollow to me. Pretty much every generation has been falsely labeled "the generation with short attention spans" by their elders, whether it is due to iPhones, iPods, Nintendo, MTV, Atari, pinball, transistor radios, or whatever the tech of the time is. But even if i differ with his conclusions, I certainly agree with the premise.Personally I think a far more likely "beginning of the end" will be when schools realize their potential civil liabilities from brain injury lawsuits down the road. No amount of cushy tax breaks, TV money, luxury suites and generous benefactors will be able to offset that risk.

  • David Clary
    2019-02-08 00:48

    College football is the main driver of college sports revenue, and Gaul ably surveys schools' mad rush to build ever-fancier stadiums to stay ahead of their competitors. Many states' highest-paid employees are football coaches, and Gaul does a good job examining how it corrodes the high-minded ideals of our leading universities. I thought he could have delved deeper into the argument into whether players should receive a share of these riches. He does make the case that players receive not only scholarships, but also very expensive academic tutoring and physical training and therapy. Yet the pressing issue of paying players deserved closer scrutiny. I don't believe that a current player was quoted in the book -- it could have been that university PR folks barred them from talking. Still, a player who recently graduated has no stricture against sharing his views about the system. The book suffers a bit from the "I was there" approach seen too often in journalism recounting difficulties in securing interviews and credentials. Such travails aren't usually interesting to the reader, who simply wants the writer to share what he knows. Too-frequent use of the first-person singular can actually bog down a narrative in extraneous digressions, as happens on occasion here. Overall, though, this is a useful book by a dogged reporter who knows his way around spreadsheets and digging up sources.

  • Wayne Clark
    2019-02-16 06:01

    This book is an excellent expose on the effect that big money in college athletic departments has on their academics. This is something that I have been pondering since my own undergraduate days at Ohio State University in 1968 when their football program was coached by Woody Hayes. I always thought the parasitic nature of college sports detracted from the true mission of the university as an institution of higher learning.I read the book in the fall of 2015 prior to the Ohio State Homecoming game. I was in Columbus that weekend for campus meetings but did not attend the game.I was encouraged after reading this book. From an athletic program perspective, Ohio State is nearly as bad as most colleges in the SEC as well as the University of Texas.The book ended with a very well-written and thoughtful piece on the problems that were encountered in the basketball program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. It accurately describes the disaster that blindsided Chancellor Holden Thorpe.

  • Sherrie
    2019-01-27 02:45

    I've read my share of sports exposes, but I've never read one where the author was a 2 time Pulitzer Prize winner, short listed for 4 more, and had a long and serious background in investigative journalism. (before that field became extinct). No serious college football fan reading this book will be surprised at WHAT is going on. What will be a shock is HOW MUCH of it. From small (Eastern Michigan University) to huge (the biggest schools of the Power-5 Conferences), there are problems everywhere. "Billion Dollar Ball"s title doesn't even begin to address the scope of the money.Gaul's style is rather dry, and he uses the first person a bit much for my taste. I also would have liked to see him delve into the issue of college athletes (primarily football players) should be paid beyond their scholarship, room and board. The issue of concussions, CTE and who picks up the bill also goes untouched. But those minor criticisms aside, this is a must-read for any serious college sports fan, and a highly recommended one for even the casual fan.

  • Rick
    2019-02-21 01:58

    Gilbert Gaul has done something unique, he has taken the over told story of how money is corrupting college sports, especially football, a told it from a unique angle. Gaul breaks down the story into the less well known story of how life-long fans are being abused by the programs and how successful smaller conference schools are being shut out from making bigger money. He also shares a great example of a smaller program that thrived and several small schools dying because they can't compete. This is a Coke/ Pepsi universe and these are local sodas. He does the work a great service by telling how many people try very hard to give these athletes a great education and if they do fail it's not always because the system fails them. Gaul disabused the notion that football pays for other academic programs or athletic programs, especially women's.This is a fresh, well-researched and well written book. I strongly recommend it.

  • Gordon
    2019-02-16 01:56

    A delight of a book that traces our big-money culture of football that lets universities spend multiple millions on celebrity coaches, often those who can't coach, and hundreds of thousands on athletes when the normal students receive almost nothing. The contrast of the Oregon athletes' lounge and learning center to the austere but beautiful rowing team of Wisconsin makes a salient point for the book, as does the wonderful story of Alabama, recipient of millions in ticket reservations (not tickets, just the right to buy tickets) and branding, going after a painter and a cupcake maker for their percentage of the artist's or baker's take. Small-minded, the giants of college football take a pasting in this book. I have my own feelings about the current practice of erecting a school-within-a-school to educate football and basketball players, which sizably disagrees with that of the author, but the people of this country need to read this book. It will put some salt on your ESPN viewing.

  • Annice
    2019-01-24 23:45

    Billion-Dolllar Ball takes readers into the often overlooked money culture of college football. Using interviews, facts and his own research, Gaul raises serious questions about the priorities of our nation's universities. By spending more money on college football than professors, honors programs, and just about every aspect of education, are universities sending the wrong message? With increased pressure on athletes to perform well, have athletic departments actually encouraged the cheating scandals that have developed in the recent years? Is this what we want our universities to be focusing on?This book is a must read for all college football fans. While it will not stop me from watching the game, it will make me think twice about what it is doing to our colleges. This book is extremely well researched and Gaul does an excellent job of presenting his arguments, backed up with facts, that will keep you reading.

  • Laurel
    2019-02-06 00:57

    I don't hold a positive view of the culture college football as practiced at many institutions of higher education, so this book reinforced my beliefs. Most of the subject matter was not surprising, however the documented statistics around salaries, coach histories and academics did cause my head to spin around more than once. I learned about some of the innovative ways that college football institutions raised money. The idea that these revenue generating machines are still considered non-profits is unconscionable in the current world of higher education. I had not known that bloated women's rowing teams were used to appease title IV requirements. The author ends the book on a discussion of player stipends and the possible outcomes and ramifications of financially rewarding college football players efforts. My final thoughts as I ended this read were, "it's just not fair".

  • Dan Ward
    2019-02-20 06:56

    This book was OK. It could have been half as long in my opinion. The main point that kept coming up again and again and again was that College football makes SO MUCH MONEY!!! It became tiresome when athletes were compared to 'normal' students and how it wasn't 'fair' the amount of assistance the athletes received. D1 college athletes are not normal. They are prized for their athletic skill and the prestige they bring to the school they attend. A 'normal' student doesn't also live in a fishbowl, have to dedicate an incredible amount of time to their team and have the pressure of a rabid fan base breathing down their necks. The incredibly long section on women's rowing also could have been told in about 3 paragraphs. I did find it interesting that Donations to college athletics are tax deductible. That is a loophole that should probably be closed but most likely will not be.

  • Bryan
    2019-01-30 23:05

    equal parts arresting and maddening. the author does an exemplary job of showing the increasingly widening separation between college academics and athletics. moreover, within that framework you can go deeper and see the growing separation between the haves and have nots. the author punctuates the point that the mission of the university which is to serve the student body in mind body and spirit has warped into a self serving model which can be traced back to athletics (namely football) and the ubiquitous tragedy of greed. and the most depressing theme for me, the author explores that not only is it permitted by university presidents and leaders alike, but that it is actually fostered by Congress and the IRS. very moving and now in homage to the women's rowing teams across the American nation, I'm going to row.

  • Michelle
    2019-01-27 06:59

    After reading this book, I feel a little guilty to be a college football fan. College football truly is big business, and it is unclear who that big business is benefiting. It makes one ponder about the cost of entertainment and sport. At the same time, by focusing exclusively on the economics of college football and the business that has emerged around it, the potential human effect is missing from the narrative. While Gaul includes some discussion of the scholarships and tutoring and monitoring systems that have emerged around the athletes, there is little discourse on the athletes lives either while playing or post college. With the controversy right now about whether or not the athletes deserve to be paid, this book was a little light on material on that front, which made the narrative feel a little incomplete.

  • Karen
    2019-02-20 02:01

    Although packed with information and interviews, the book lacks the spirit of the game. There is no denying the big money of football. However, to be fair, the book should have addressed the trickle down of monies throughout the economy. Football is an economic entity as well as a game. How many televisions will have college football on this Saturday? How many people will go out to watch the game and spend money on foot and drink? How many people will entertain at their home with the game on? I tend to believe the author and any of his close associates never played the game of football. This book lacks the true heart and spirit of the game. That is a true disservice. This book is a journey that is sadly done at half time.

  • Ryan Mishap
    2019-01-28 06:46

    A clear-eyed investigative reporter's view of the business of college football as it relates to the educational mission of universities, compliance with Title IX, and a host of other issues. The main theme revolves around the have-it-both-ways dichotomy of universities claiming to be non-profits when it suits them but claiming their football programs are like businesses in a free market when needs must (the exorbitant coaching salaries, stadiums and facilities, for example). With a tone that varies from straight-forward no nonsense to bemused "can you believe these guys" to sardonic, Gaul is a great guide through the economics and shenanigans of big time college sports.

  • Mike Jortberg
    2019-01-22 00:04

    I loved this book. I wrote to G Gaul about the quality, depth and outstanding writing. I also asked why he didn't link College Sports $$ to the rise in tuition. He responded with a well thought out response. His response- that's another whole book. This is highly recommended to help you evaluate where you want to send your kids to school, or sports factory. Some of my favorite pages were the data tables. I wish he'd use more, as well as graphs to help show the earning gap between college football coaches and their staff vs university presidents, professors, deans, teacher's assistants and other sports coaches.