John U. Bacon Responds to Criticism of "Fourth and Long": a BSD Exclusive

Author John U. Bacon is well aware of criticism some parts of his new book, "Fourth and Long: the Fight for the Soul of College Football", has received in various parts of the internet, particularly amongst the Penn State community. He reached out to Black Shoe Diaries with the following piece, offering explanation for his work and responses to what many have called factual errors.

I would like to take this opportunity to dismiss the notion, put forward by a couple members of the local media, that my book, Fourth and Long, is unreliable. Not true. Not even close.

No work of nonfiction is factually perfect, and certainly no book of 350-some pages. But I’ll match my record for accuracy against anybody’s.

If you doubt it, ask the people inside the programs I explored. Here’s a quotation about the Penn State reporting from the York (PA) Daily Record, 8/26/2013:

"Reached this week, [Penn State Captain Mike] Mauti confirmed all of his quotes and verified the stories told through his eyes. ‘It's all true stuff,’ he said. ‘We lived it.’"

The book runs to more than 132,000 words, 352 pages, covering four programs in depth, plus Chicago, Notre Dame, Michigan State, the Big Ten and the NCAA -- from a century ago to the present. I interviewed several hundred people, compiled more than 1,500 pages of single-spaced, type-written notes, and filled a couple dozen reporters’ notebooks.

The result is a book dense with facts—two to four dozen on any given page, for a rough total of some 10,000 dates and places, names and numbers, and thousands of quotes.

But, as one of my mentors, the legendary University of Michigan, professor Sidney Fine, said, "There are no perfect books." No matter how hard we try, no matter how many expert readers review your copy, inevitably a few mistakes slip into the manuscript.

I immediately made three changes for the second printing (which is already shipping to stores) and the eBook.

  • Northwestern tailback Venric Mark is incorrectly identified as Mark Venric, which is what can happen when proofreaders in New York who are not familiar with Big Ten football go over your copy.
  • In the scene describing Jay Paterno’s outburst toward the Penn State players in the locker room, over a dozen players and staffers told me it occurred during the Nebraska game, the week after Sandusky was arrested. Not one person told me otherwise, so I had no reason to doubt it. (This is not the kind of fact you can Google.) When it came to my attention that it might have been the Illinois game, I immediately called up several players. They all still believed it was Nebraska. I wasn’t in that locker room, of course, and it turns out, based on the best assessment of the game situation and Drew Astorino’s recollection – which even he says is not 100-percent -- it probably was Illinois. Finding Astorino persuasive, I changed that – but it does not affect the point of the story.
  • Finally, in Athletic Director Dave Joyner’s outburst during the players-only meeting to decide whether to go to the TicketCity Bowl or not, he argued they should accept it for several reasons, including expected financial burdens, but obviously he did not know the NCAA would fine the program $60 million for the Sandusky scandal until the sanctions came down on the morning of Monday, July 23, 2012. An error of chronology, and that one is on me. I address Penn State’s NCAA sanctions a total of 34 times, on 28 different pages, from page 2 to page 339. My knowledge of what happened when, and how each penalty actually affected the program, is thorough. This fact appears earlier than it should. That’s been changed.

As for Snoop Dogg picking up Silas Redd in a limousine at the airport – which I mention in 14 words on page 3, and repeat on page 83 -- according to my notes, several Penn State players brought that up to me on August 28, and again on October 31, and others confirmed at various points during the season. As one player told me after the book published, "It was common knowledge." I stand by my reporting, and my sources.

I’ve been doing this work for over two decades, writing for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, and a couple dozen other national publications, in addition to producing six respected books. I do everything I can to ensure you are not only getting a compelling story, but a true one.

Is it a perfect book? No, it is not – like every other book ever published.

But is it a serious work of painstaking research and writing you can trust? Absolutely.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

-John U. Bacon

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