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Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football Hardcover – September 3, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Bacon looks at major college football through the lenses of four Big Ten schools—Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern. The 2012 season was a tumultuous one for all four. Penn State was reeling from the Sandusky child-abuse scandal. Ohio State had a new coach, native son Urban Meyer. Michigan had a new athletic director determined to run the sports program as though it had been purchased by a private equity firm. And Northwestern, with its rising program and Energizer Bunny head coach Pat Fitzgerald, was out to show that success was possible without selling your soul. Bacon had virtually unrestricted access to all four programs and reports on his findings objectively. From Penn State’s players and coaches, left to die in the wake of NCAA sanctions, through Michigan and Ohio State, raising and spending money like the conglomerates they are, and to Northwestern, with its almost naive emphasis on academics and character, winning its first bowl game in modern times, this is a fascinating saga of stark contrasts, full of reasons for fans to hope and to despair. --Wes Lukowsky


"Bacon is a journalist who loves his conference and his sport and is angry at the abuses committed in their names.... By showing us how deep corruption runs in college football, the author is also showing us why we care so much, and all there is that deserves to be saved." (Allen Barra Chicago Tribune)

"John Bacon's exploration of the uncontrolled greed, intellectual corruption, and sheer mendacity that have captured college football would be depressing - if it weren't so wonderfully reported, engagingly written, and utterly persuasive. If you care about college sports, Fourth and Long is required reading." (Daniel Okrent, bestselling author of Last Call)

"No one knows the Big Ten better than John U. Bacon, so it's no surprise he picked the perfect football season to chronicle in his groundbreaking book, Fourth and Long. Bacon has written a riveting portrait of a watershed season in the most venerable college conference in the nation. The Big Ten is at the vortex of so many issues in college sports, and Bacon expertly covers them all." (Christine Brennan, USA Today national sports columnist and bestselling author of Best Seat in the House)

"John U. Bacon went deep inside the world of college football, penetrating the locker room doors to meet some players you won’t forget and, most amazingly, learn the secrets coaches protect more fiercely than the CIA. By getting so close to the heart of the sport, Bacon reminds us what we love about our greatest game." (John Saunders, Emmy-nominated studio host of ESPN and ABC College Football)

“John U. Bacon has gotten to the core of the tug-of-war between the players and fans on one side, and the people running college sports exclusively for their own profit on the other. Bacon provides unique perspective that causes even the most ardent supporter of the status quo to question the future of this cherished American institution." (Jay Bilas, ESPN basketball analyst and best-selling author of Toughness)

"John U. Bacon is that rare combination of bulldog reporter and sympathetic ear... Buy [Fourth and Long]." (Ivan Maisel

“Bacon…builds a clear and engaging narrative [and] delivers the goods.” (Detroit News)

"Despite its problems, college football remains a joyride when guys like [Bacon] are driving. Fans would be smart to hop in with Mr. Mauti, Mr. Zordich and Mr. Bacon and discover that this flawed game can still be a hell of a trip." (Mark Dent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

"ports journalist John U. Bacon explores the high-stakes world of Big Ten football through four venerable schools—Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern—in this riveting inside look at the problems and promises of a great American institution." (Parade)

"What Bacon outlines in Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football, is that seniors Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich, lauded for their leadership last year - for staying and leading the charge for others to stay - may not have been lauded enough." (Philidelphia Inquirer)

"The book is set perfectly to describe the sweeping turmoil and change as Penn State weathered the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and harsh NCAA sanctions while transitioning to a new coaching staff... [with] fly-on-the-wall, eyebrow raising scenes involving key Penn State football figures -- much of it from Mauti, the former star linebacker now with the Minnisota Vikings." (York Daily Record)

“A compelling read” (

"[M]ust-read material within the Penn State community.... [John U. Bacon]'s stories are well-crafted, informative and entertaining.... With the future of college football already upon us, this jaunt through one of the last true stories of college football's "soul", free from hidden agendas and greed, is worthy of contemplating both what was and what will be as Penn State plows ahead toward its own future." (Blue and White Illustrated)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476706433
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476706436
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John U. Bacon has worked the better part of two decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.

He is the author or coauthor of seven books on sports and business, including "Bo's Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership" (2007), which became a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller, and "Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football" (2011), which debuted at #6 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

On Michigan Radio (Ann Arbor, Flint and Grand Rapids) he appears Thursday afternoons "Stateside with Cynthia Canty," and Friday mornings provides his sports commentaries. He also talks Friday mornings on the Michigan Insider at (1050 AM, Ann Arbor-Detroit), and frequently speaks on NPR's "Here & Now" with Robin Young. He also contributes to documentaries on HBO, ESPN and the Big Ten Network, and appears on ESPN, FOX Business and MSNBC.

Bacon has been sought out to give speeches for financial companies such as Merrill Lynch and Ameriprise, auto manufacturers like Chrysler and Subaru, and international corporations like Microsoft Brazil and Copersucar, from Taipei to Toledo, and Seattle to Sao Palo. In 2011 the Michigan chapter of Meeting Planners International (MPI) named him Speaker of the Year. He also teaches at Northwesterns' Medill School of Journalism, and the University of Michigan, where he won the Golden Apple Award in 2009. in 2006, he was inducted into the Ann Arbor Huron High School Hall of Fame for helping to lead the hockey team from the worst in school history to the best in three seasons.

Bacon is a decent hockey player, a mediocre Spanish speaker and a poor piano player, but that has not prevented him from enjoying all three.

Customer Reviews

Pace of the book: Very good.
John Bacon takes you deep into the heart of a most memorable Big Ten College Football season.
Brian Mahoney
A must read for college football fans.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Joe on September 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
John U Bacon has written several best selling books, but "Fourth and Long" may be his best writing yet.

College football is perhaps the most popular sport in the country, and no sport, not even the NFL, can rival the traditions, fan support, and pageantry of college football. However, as the sport has grown in popularity it has become increasingly more commercialized. Bacon examines this dichotomy, and how 'amateur' athletes are the cogs in this well-oiled machine. With each passing NCAA scandal and round of musical chairs in conference realignment, the charm that embodies college football and the ideals of amateur athletics becomes more and more diminished.

Bacon scrutinizes all this as he gives a riveting inside and first hand look at the inter workings of four big time college football programs, detailing the Joe Paterno saga and Bill O'Brien era at Penn State, Urban Meyer's undefeated first season at Ohio State, Michigan's monetary driven athletic department culture, and Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats at prestigious Northwestern University. On the sidelines, in the locker room, at the tailgates, and in the coaches office, Bacon was there.

If you are a college football fan, or simply a sports fan in general, this book is a must read, as Bacon's stories will shock even the most die hard of fans.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Willkie on September 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John U. Bacon has written a riveting book that exposes the inside and many of the problems and flaws of college football. Yet, even with college football's many faults, the author has masterfully reminded us of all of the great things about the college sports and lets the reader fall in love with the game all over again.

The book has a wonderful narrative flow that keeps the reader engaged.

I would recommend this book for a diverse audience beyond just the college football fan. This book will also be of interest to those in business management and anyone interested in decision making within academia and large organizations. Bacon contrasts stories of heroism on the gridiron and in the locker room with great failures of the system. "Fourth and Long" gives an in-depth account of the people, motivations, conflicts and decisions within college football. Not all universities are made the same and not all people are either.

The author gives the reader incredible access to the lives of players, coaches, athletic directors, alumni/booster associations and others directly involved with college football.

A good read for perspective college students trying to get a feel for colleges with big athletic cultures and a must read for any future college student athlete regardless of sport.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Peter Uher on September 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fourth and Long has amazing behind the scenes access and showcases some of the most die-hard college football programs during a particularly eventful season.

The various chapters around Penn State are riveting. The leadership displayed by the new coaching staff and the players will give you hope that a few hero-athletes still exist.

John U. Bacon also exposes some of the greed and hypocrisy at the NCAA and athletic director levels. As the money gets bigger and bigger in college sports, it is clear the police are on the take and in it for themselves.

It is a very enjoyable book, even for a casual sports fan, and a must read for any serious college football fanatic.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Paul A. Mastin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
It's the most wonderful time of the year--college football season! In between games, and in between reading the updates and predictions of your favorite games, football fans of all stripes will enjoy John U. Bacon's tour through the 2012 Big Ten (or should I say B1G) football season, Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football. Although Bacon is a Michigan grad, and this book focuses on four Big Ten teams (Northwestern, Michigan State, Penn State, and Michigan), these programs are reflective of larger changes in college football, and fans of other colleges and conferences will find plenty to relate to.

As we well remember, 2012 was a pivotal year, especially for Penn State and Ohio State. At Penn State, one of the most legendary coaches of all time, Joe Paterno, was fired, along with many athletic and university staff, in the wake of the scandal surrounding former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse charges. The NCAA came down hard on Penn State, stopping short of the death penalty, but crippling the football program. At Ohio State, some players had exchanged memorabilia for tattoos, then Coach Jim Tressel covered it up, and the Ohio State program was suspended from any post-season play. Bacon, observing how little consequence fell to Tressel and other coaches who lead their programs astray with NCAA violations, comments that "if the NCAA ran local law enforcement, whenever they pulled over a drunk driver, they would impound the car and let the driver hop in another one and drive off."

As these two programs tried to rebound from their respective scandals, they were faced with finding their deepest motivations to play the game of football.
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