Thursday, May 7, 2009

Saturday Rules

Back when I was a sports writer, I had a system for generating columns and other off-day type stories. While interviewing the high school and small college coaches and athletes on my beat, as it were, I would try to ask plenty of extra questions beyond those pertinent to the story I was working on that day. Subsequently, I had leftover quotes, anecdotes, and angles for a 12- or 15-inch story a day or two later.

Saturday Rules, by Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy, is like a 344-page version of that 15-inch story.

The book is purportedly an essay on why college football is superior to the NFL, a position I share. But, like a half-assed college term paper, the central point peters out about a third of the way through the book as Murphy's writing veers into criticism of college football itself. The criticism isn't unjustified, but it works against the book's central theme. A TA should have helped Murphy find focus.

Worse, the book is lazily reported. Murphy seemed to just cover USC and Notre Dame games in 2006, then get take in some of the other big games he was assigned to cover over the course of a season. Each chapter feels like an expanded version of a weekly SI feature, with unnecessary detail added. This perspective yields nuggets that go something like this:

"Walking across the field, I approached [star player] above the din of the band. 'That was a great game,' I said. 'We're not supposed to give interviews outside the locker room,' [star player] said. I shook his hand and told him I'd see him later."

That's exaggerating, but you get the gist. The low point was when he talked about watching some game on TV. Dude, that's okay for lowly bloggers, but not SI writers authoring books.

It's not a total wasted of time. Ohio State and Michigan take their share of jabs, and the Badgers start showing up in the weekly top 10 late in the season.

Still, this lazy effort isn't worth the time. The book is a good premise done by a good writer who had good access -- it could have been a lot better.


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Edward said...

I thought that Stewart Mandel's book "Bowl, Polls and Shattered Souls" is an excellent nook. Read that SI Authored book instead. Try to get it at the library or in paperback instead. I bought the hardcover a couple summers ago b/c I was fiending for football: it is good, but not $30 good.

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