Varsity Green: A Behind the Scenes Look at Culture and Corruption in College Athletics

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In Varsity Green, Mark Yost cuts through clichés and common misconceptions to take a hard-eyed look at the current state of college athletics. He takes readers behind the scenes of the conspicuous and high-revenue business of college sports in order to dissect the enormous television revenues, merchandising rights, bowl game payoffs, sneaker contracts, and endorsement deals that often pay state university coaches more than the college president, or even the governor.

Money in college sports is nothing new. But readers will be amazed at the alarming depth and breadth of influence, both financial and otherwise, that college sports has within our culture. Readers will learn how academic institutions capitalize on the success of their athletic programs, and what role sports-based revenues play across campus, from the training room to the science lab. Yost pays particular attention to the climate that big-money athletics has created over the past decade, as both the NCAA's March Madness and the Bowl Championship Series have become multi-billion dollar businesses. This analysis goes well beyond campus, showing how the corrupting influences that drive college athletics today have affected every aspect of youth sports, and have seeped into our communities in ways that we would not otherwise suspect.

This book is not only for the players, policymakers, and other insiders who are affected by the changing economics of college athletics; it is a must-read for any sports fan who engages with the NCAA and deserves to see the business behind the game.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"According to veteran sports-business journalist Yost, there never was a 'golden era' of college sports, when gentlemen scholars learned sportsmanship and teamwork; rather, sports have always been a means for colleges to earn money, power, and esteem, too often resulting in illiterate college athletes and corrupt athletic programs. ...(T)his intelligent critique of the U.S. college athletics makes a captivating examination of America's infatuation with money, celebrity, and sports."—Publishers Weekly

"This provocative look at college athletics by sports and business journalist Yost is sure to start some conversations. In no uncertain terms, Yost accuses the NCAA of being morally bankrupt and exploiting poor, inner-city youth as chattel that feeds a protection racket lining the pockets of the rich and powerful. ...Yost's book focuses primarily on football but will appeal widely to anyone with an interest in high school or college athletics. Though clearly opinionated, it is an excellent primer on the business of college sports."—Library Journal

"The most informed, most dogged analyst of the finances of sports is clearly Mark Yost. Are the hand-wringing, issue-concerned administrators of college sports ready for him? He's ready for them." —Bob Boyles, co-author, The USA TODAY College Football Encyclopedia

"In Varsity Green, Mark Yost joins the voices outside the stadium or fieldhouse who decry the hypocrisy and corruption in college athletics, and in weaving together the many aspects and actors he demonstrates that the madness is not just confined to March."—Allen R. Sanderson, University of Chicago

"Mark Yost lays bare the sordid details of the corrupting influence big money has on college athletics and academic integrity at many of our institutions of higher learning. The writing is entertaining, the facts disturbing."—Dennis Coates, Department of Economics, UMBC

Publishers Weekly
According to veteran sports-business journalist Yost, there never was a "golden era" of college sports, when gentlemen scholars learned sportsmanship and teamwork; rather, sports have always been a means for colleges to earn money, power, and esteem, too often resulting in illiterate college athletes and corrupt athletic programs. The difference today is the scale: the Rose Bowl, though no longer the highest earning bowl game, generates more than $570 million for the Southern California economy; Nike pays millions in multiyear contracts with universities including Florida State, Michigan, North Carolina, and Illinois; and of the kids who devote their life to a particular sport, less than two percent will have a meaningful professional career. Yost reveals college sports as little more than a "machine that churns out kids for America's elite basketball, football, and hockey leagues," sacrificing young people's futures for big money and bragging rights. At times, Yost seems unsure whether to play the worldly reporter or the wide-eyed innocent, but his report is mostly thorough and largely well-written; conspicuously left out, however, are. the voices of the athletes themselves. Still, this intelligent critique of the U.S. college athletics makes a captivating examination of America's infatuation with money, celebrity, and sports.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804769693
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/3/2009
  • Pages: 200
  • Sales rank: 482,062
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Yost has written about the business of sports for The Wall Street Journal, Sports Business Journal and other publications for more than 20 years. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and SmartMoney. A native of Brooklyn and a lifelong Yankees fan, he lives in Chicago with his son, George.

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Read an Excerpt

Varsity Green

By Mark Yost

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2010 Mark Yost
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-6969-3

Chapter One


The most refreshing-and honest-person I met while researching this book is Phil Hughes, the associate athletic director for student services at Kansas State University. He clearly has no illusions about his job. And you may not like what he has to say.

"My job is to protect The Entertainment Product," he stated matter-of-factly. "My job is to make sure that The Entertainment Product goes to class. My job is to make sure that The Entertainment Product studies. My job is to make sure that The Entertainment Product makes adequate academic progress according to NCAA guidelines."

What he calls "The Entertainment Product," much of the rest of the world calls "the student-athlete." The former phrase is brutally honest; the latter part of the phalanx of lies and half-truths that provide the bulwark of the façade of amateurism that falsely cloaks college athletics. Hughes's characterization may sound harsh, but is, in fact, the reality. Rather than scorn him, we should all be grateful for his candor.

"It's how I sleep at night," Hughes said. "It is who and what these kids are. You can hate that, you can hate the system. But at the end of the day, it's who they are. They're the raw material in a multibillion-dollar sports and entertainment business. And it's my job to protect them."

Once you get past the shock of Hughes's blunt characterization of the kids he oversees every day, you realize that he's absolutely right. He's also an anomaly. That's because he's a rare voice of sanity and honesty amid a nationwide army of academic advisers and tutors on campuses across the country who cajole, coddle, and coach these kids, most of whom have no business being at a serious institution of advanced academic learning. Some of these academic advisers are also fighting their own institutions, which are more concerned with an athlete's academic eligibility and ability to sell tickets than whether or not he or she is passing freshman English.


University presidents will tell you that the kids are "students first and athletes second," but that's a canard. In reality, most of these kids are, as Hughes calls them, "The Entertainment Product." They're the raw material-the Talent-that draws millions of avid fans to collegiate stadiums and arenas across the country every week. That is the cold harsh reality of the business of college sports today.

Given that, Phil Hughes is not a monster. He's a realist.

A 1980 graduate of the University of California, San Diego, Hughes has a master's degree in counseling psychology from the University of Kentucky. And while he may sound like he's part of the problem, he is, in fact, just a realist. For better or worse, he accepts his role as a small cog in a very big moneymaking machine.

Hughes has been at this game for a long time. In 2009, he was entering his thirteenth year at Kansas State. Before that, he was at the University of Michigan for seven years, responsible for the athletic department's student-athlete support program, which includes academic advising, academic compliance, tutorial services, admissions tracking, faculty relations, and something called "academic advocacy."

Hughes's office at Kansas State is in the $1 million Academic Learning Center. It's part of the Vanier Complex, the $2 million football facility that Kansas State built in 1992. It includes locker rooms, a 6,500-square-foot weight room, an athletic training room, a players' lounge, and the Big Eight Room, a plush lounge where Kansas State signs some of its most-promising recruits.

In addition to Hughes, there are six full-time counselors, six assistant counselors and grad assistants, and a tutoring staff of about forty-five serving four hundred athletes. Among the services offered to K-State athletes are academic advising and counseling; tutoring; assistance with writing skills, time management, goal setting, and computer skills; a faculty mentoring program; and supervised study time. The athletes also have faculty advisers in their chosen major. With the exception of the faculty adviser, there are small-group tutorial aids that are otherwise unavailable to students who aren't scholarship athletes. Remarkably, despite the individual attention, many of these athletes never come close to graduating. But as is the case on hundreds of campuses across the country, Hughes and the administration pretend that is their goal.

"My number one goal is keeping our kids grounded in the business at hand, which is competing successfully in the classroom," Hughes said. "It's a very nuts-and-bolts activity. Kid gets up, feet hit the floor, and that kid has to make progress in their academic commitments and obligations, that day. And it's trench work. That's what we talk with our kids about."

While some see these personalized tutoring services as merely another example of the special treatment athletes are accorded their whole lives, Hughes understands the academic quality of the raw material he's been given to work with. These kids may be gifted athletes, but many are sorely lacking in not only academic discipline but the very rudimentary knowledge that a high school education is supposed to provide. That's because many of them have been passed along through the grades from teacher to teacher, all tacitly acknowledging that these kids weren't born to learn, they were born to play.

Recognizing the academic shortcomings of many of his athletes, Hughes does what he can while he has the kids. And although some may see it as special treatment, Hughes takes the very pragmatic view that it would be crueler to bring kids to a university the size and stature of Kansas State and give them all the tools they need to succeed on the playing field but then leave them to fend for themselves in the classroom.

"We put ourselves in close proximity to the athlete to achieve that very singular goal," he said. "And that goal is day-to-day progress in their academic requirements."

Fighting Hughes and his staff all the way-even in non-revenue sports such as equestrianism and rowing-is an army of adults who have only one thing in mind: winning. This group often includes parents, coaches, mentors, and friends.

"So many of the adults only want to focus on and talk about the next match. Where do they rank?" Hughes said. "That's what these kids have heard their whole life. We have to be the adults who say, 'How did you do on that chemistry test?'"


At Kansas State, the academic advisers try to stress the importance of academics as soon as the athletes arrive on campus. In fact, many incoming freshmen come to school in June or July for minicamps and begin taking classes right away, in hopes that the light load of a summer session will better prepare them for the full course load they're expected to take in the fall.

"What we tell recruits is that being a student-athlete is like having two full-time jobs," Hughes said. "We alert them and their parents to the difficulty in choosing this type of pathway."

The athletes will have three to five hours less per day to study than other students, he continued, "because their second job-sports-commands so much time and energy. Other students can work part-time, arrange their own schedule. These students are told, 'Here's what the deal is: Lift at six a.m. Practice from three to six P.M. Go to classes in between. And study group here at seven P.M.'"

Hughes said that his department has to offer student-athletes so many tutorial services because practice and training for their sport takes up so much of their day.

"We tell recruits to look at the kids in their class to the right and left of them. They have five hours more a day to study than you do. How do you compete? That's what we're here to help them do.

"We take so much of their mental and physical energy," he pointed out, referring to the athletic department. "They have to study with us after they're beat up, tired, or just plain exhausted.

"Like it or not, these kids are elite athletes. "It is the institution that chooses to be a member of the NCAA. Once you've made that decision, in order to compete athletically or in the entertainment business, you have to support these students so that they can survive and hopefully succeed academically."

How exactly do they do that?

"We make sure that their schedule fits their interests and abilities," Hughes answered. "We will work with them to solve any problems and any distractions that take away from that daily progress. We will monitor their academic standing and their academic performance. We offer tutorial and mentoring services. And we act as advocates with the university."

While some may see that as coddling, Hughes feels that regardless of the help his staff gives to the athletes, at the end of the day it's up to the individual athlete whether or not he or she succeeds in the classroom.

"My program has no academic authority, and that's a good thing," he affirmed. "Academic authority is retained in the university. My signature doesn't mean anything. I don't grant degrees. Student-athletes have to follow the procedures and protocols of every other student."

Maybe so, but they definitely are getting more hands-on attention than many other students. For instance, all new athletes actually have a study partner, someone on Hughes's staff who sits with them and does their homework with them ("but not for them," he insists).

"We do that in order for us to get to know our students," Hughes said. "We need to watch them study. We need to talk with them. How'd you like Spanish? How'd you do in Lit class? We have to gauge their level of motivation, anticipation, and their level of commitment. So we need to be with them."

While Hughes and his staff are available to the athletes twenty-four hours a day, each team sets its own study-time requirements. One team may want athletes to have six hours of required study time per week. Others might only require four. Some student-athletes are self-motivated, whereas others may require significant handholding.

For instance, Kansas State has a program called the Study Table, common at many universities. Not only does it set a rigid schedule of what subject student-athletes will study and for how long, it also checks up on them between classes.

"As we do our initial screening of our student-athletes, we will assign them, based on need, to our daytime program," Hughes described. "Before class, between class, and after class they meet with tutors or academic mentors, and they get their work done during the day, while they have the energy and the focus to do it."

In addition to tutoring, Hughes's staff conducts review sessions, helps athletes prepare for midterm and final exams, and offers one-on-one tutoring sessions.

"We do have tutors available in the evening, and we have tutors on call," Hughes said. "But again, this is a day-to-day slog. So we've found that it works best if the tutoring is done on a regular, scheduled, consistent basis. Our goal is to offer daily tutoring, not end-of-semester cramming."

All freshmen get tutoring whether they think they need it or not. And it continues, "until they prove to us that they can handle the quality and quantity of work."


While Hughes's focus is supposed to be on academics, the economics of college athletics are never very far from his mind. They have to be, because that is the world in which the student-athletes live. Moreover, regardless of any legitimate concern Hughes may have for these kids, their ultimate focus, their whole reason for being on campus, is to keep the multibillion-dollar college sports machine running.

"My customers are an Entertainment Product that resides within a seventeen- to twenty-two-year-old person," Hughes acknowledged. "And that is a crazy proposition."

The greatest threat to that Entertainment Product is when they get arrested, test positive for steroids or street drugs, or get caught taking money from boosters.

"It's a very fragile existence for our business and for that youngster," said Hughes. "The problem at K-State, Ohio State, Michigan is that these young athletes are treated like celebrities by their peers. They are granted great status, and they have great distractions. Many youngsters seventeen to twenty-two don't handle that type of attention or status very well. Poor social and personal decisions are what make this whole NCAA business really tenuous. And we've constructed this elaborate entertainment industry with this cast of actors and actresses.

"And if you think about the developmental issues of young people in college, regardless of whether or not they're an athlete, those challenges are huge, period. Then you throw them in front of seventy-five thousand screaming fans, add in the travel and the intensity of the competition, and prospects of the Olympics or pro sports.

"If you think of the threats to an athletic department, the things that can bring down the house. If you're losing and have to fire the coach, that's part of the equation. That's anticipated and expected. It doesn't kill you. What can kill you is the behavioral decisions of the athlete. Gambling. Sexually assaulting someone."

Going back to his use of the term Entertainment Product, Hughes, again, has a very real-world view of the world of college athletics.

"The NCAA entertainment business is really founded on two concepts," he said. "All of these kids are amateurs. So amateurism is the cornerstone of this entertainment business. They're here for the love of the school."

The second is integrity.

"Integrity and amateurism. It's a house of cards," Hughes commented. "All of the NCAA legislation is based on maintaining these two false premises. You have seventeen- to twenty-two-year-old students who don't fit into those parameters and can become a threat."

So how does Phil Hughes, an otherwise upstanding, decent guy, keep his sanity amid this crazy system that says it's about academics but is really about maintaining the economic viability of college athletics?

"You accept it for what it is," he said. "That's all you can do. I'm trying to make an impossible equation work. It's a dogfight every day. I relish when we can make it work."

On the upside, Hughes considers it progress that academic tutoring facilities are now part of the so-called "facilities arms race," in which schools try to outdo each other to build the most luxurious, state-of-the-art sports facilities. The trend, admittedly, is partly fueled by ego-"My stadium is bigger and nicer than yours." But mostly these facilities are used in the battle to lure recruits, thus the term facilities arms race. Put more simply, if I'm the coach at a school that has a training center with underwater treadmills, the newest sports-medicine treatments and techniques, and a weight room with seventy Nautilus machines, then maybe I can convince a recruit to choose my school over another that has only sixty-five Nautilus machines and no underwater treadmills.

"At one point, I delivered academic support services out of a doublewide trailer," Hughes said. "I referred to it as our mobile academic unit. The buildings we're seeing today for academic tutoring are a marked change from what they were just ten years ago."

In addition to new facilities, Division I schools also are increasingly adding staff, including people like Hughes, who do nothing but make sure that student-athletes are working hard at maintaining their NCAA-mandated academic eligibility. In other words, at almost every college and university across the country, Hughes has a counterpart, worrying about the same problems that he does.


These athletic tutoring programs are not really new, they've simply grown in size and stature over the years. Not surprisingly, the University of Notre Dame, one of the few schools where athletes have a higher graduation rate than the general student body, started the first full-fledged student-athlete tutoring center, in 1964.

"Father Joyce saw what was happening with television," said Mike DeCicco, who started the Notre Dame program and retired as the assistant athletic director for academic advisement in 1995. "He knew that television would not bring greater exposure to college football, but also greater scrutiny."


Excerpted from Varsity Green by Mark Yost Copyright © 2010 by Mark Yost. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: The Huggins Factor....................1
1 The Entertainment Product....................13
2 An Inauspicious Beginning....................31
3 Who's Really the BCS Champion?....................48
4 Money Madness....................64
5 Mud Rooms and Electron Microscopes....................79
6 How Much Does That Stadium Really Cost?....................97
7 Coaches Cash In, Too....................115
8 A Boost Up....................131
9 Breakin' All the Rules....................147
10 The NCAA: Cartel or Mafia?....................159
11 The Kids....................174
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