Senior writer Rick Telander has had a love-hate relationship with big-time college football since the day he joined the Northwestern varsity as a sophomore wide receiver in 1968. Lately, though, his disgust with what the game has become has overshadowed whatever affection he felt for it. Telander's disenchantment is eloquently presented in his new book, The Hundred Yard Lie (Simon & Schuster, $17.95), an excerpt of which begins on page 92.
"I've been saving clips, notes and impressions on the sport for 20 years," says Telander. "Things that were unusual or bizarre or revealing, in hopes that one day I might write a very personal book about college football. Then came the turmoil I started feeling while covering the game the past two years." One of the most shocking experiences for Telander was coauthoring defensive lineman Tommy Chaikin's nightmarish story of steroid use at South Carolina (SI, Oct. 24, 1988). Telander was also at Oklahoma the week that Sooner quarterback Charles Thompson was arrested for selling cocaine (SI, Feb. 27, 1989).
Telander says these incidents taught him that "the game is one thing; the system is something else. Corruption isn't restricted to things that end up on the police blotter or as NCAA violations. It's hypocrisy: The system talks about the student-athlete but promotes an entertainment vehicle for people who have nothing to do with the university."
Telander believes that the tragedy is not that the game has changed since his Northwestern days but that it hasn't. "The past wasn't halcyon," he says. "The players didn't know what to make of it all—the money, the trappings, the obsession with winning. That's why it's taken me so long to sift through it all, to figure out how the game made me what I am."
Despite his frustration with college football, Telander remains encouraged. Last week he was at a McDonald's in Dwight, Ill., when the Division III, nonscholarship Spartans of Aurora (Ill.) University trooped in just after beating Eureka College. "They said that college football was the greatest thing in the world," says Telander. "They told me, 'We can quit anytime we want. We talk to each other and our opponents. We talk to people in the stands. We play for ourselves.' When I asked them if they get anything else out of football, some of them held up five-dollar bills—their meal money. The pleasure they got from playing the game made me think that there's still hope."
Telander takes college football to task.