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October 5, 2013

Author gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at college football

STILLWATER, Okla. — Jeff Benedict reveals sides of college football that fans won’t see from the stands in his new book, “The System.”

Benedict spent the 2012 college football season on sidelines, in coaches offices, presidents’ offices and corporate offices. He examines Washington State coach Mike Leach, the University of Texas, the University of Michigan, Brigham Young University, student-athletes and boosters.

The author of eight books and numerous magazine articles was on the Oklahoma State University campus Saturday. Benedict and Oklahoma State University megadonor Boone Pickens signed copies of Benedict’s book prior to the start of the OSU-Kansas State football game.

In “The System,” Benedict describes Pickens as one of two turbo boosters in the nation. The other turbo booster is Nike chairman Phil Knight who has given millions to the University of Oregon.

Pickens has donated approximately $500 million to Oklahoma State University athletic and academic programs, including $248 million for OSU’s football program and the renovation of the football stadium that bears his name on the Stillwater campus.

The chapter on Pickens examines Pickens’ donation, his role in Mike Holder’s ascension to OSU athletic director and Pickens’ enjoyment of Cowboy football games.

It focuses on Oklahoma State University’s home game against the University of Texas last season. Benedict did not focus on OSU’s 41-36 loss. Instead, he wrote about Pickens’ ability to interact with students and older fans on the sidelines before the game started.

It describes students thanking Pickens. “We love you, Boone,” said a fan dressed in an orange tuxedo jacket and orange bow tie, according to Benedict’s book.

Benedict described the Pickens’ chapter as one of his favorites in the book. It was his favorite to write.

“In all the profiles I’ve read about Boone, and there has been plenty of stuff written about him, no one had ever written about the human interaction this guy has with such a wide diversity of people,” Benedict said. “That’s what interested me as a writer. He could walk into the stadium an hour before the game and he could walk by the rowdiest section of the football stadium, which is the student section. ... There are very few boosters in America who could walk by that section and, first of all, ever be known. The fact that these kids knew who he was and they knew him by name — they recognized him — got my attention.”

Most boosters, Benedict said, could walk in front of the fans and nobody would know or care who they were.

“Boone went over and to his credit had the ability to interact with these kids and be right at home. This guy is a billionaire oil man who could interact, get along and speak the language of these 20-year-old, fired up, college football fans,” Benedict said.

Benedict and collaborator Armen Keteyian spent 18 months researching, interviewing and writing “The System.”

The book appeals to football fans and non-football fans because it focuses on the people instead of the game, he said.

“There’s enough in this book that will grab you,” Benedict said. “I wasn’t interested in trying to change the conversation about college football. I wasn’t interested in trying to get the NCAA to do something different than what they are doing. I really had two simple goals when we set out to write ‘The System.’ No. 1, I want readers when they finish reading ‘The System’ and get to the last page to say, ‘That was worth reading. It totally held my attention the whole time.’ Secondly, I learned some things I didn’t know. If those two things happen, mission accomplished.”

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