Cover Image: The Hot Seat

The Hot Seat

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Member Reviews

This is the perfect mix of Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” with politics, sociology, religion and culture.

During the 2021 season, Ben Mathis-Lilley visited three schools (his and my beloved and frustrating University of Michigan; LSU; and FAU, with side trips to Clemson and MSU) to write about fandom in three distinct places with three distinct fan cultures.  But it's not just a chronicle of that.  It touches on why we choose to identify with one school vs another and what that represents to the larger would; fandom as a corollary to religion; and how sports becomes politics and vice versa).

Anyone who's a sports fan with an interest beyond scores and injury reports needs to read this.

This honest review was given in exchange for an ARC from #netgalley
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To a person who is from another nation, American college football must be a very different sport.  There are many different aspects that a visitor may not understand, such as the tailgating, the fever that so many have for a particular school, the recruiting and the concept of a “student-athlete” representing their school. These may make one, even college football fans, wonder why so many people are so enthralled with the sport.  Slate writer Ben Mathis-Lilley makes an attempt to describe this game that is all-consuming for many fans.
He accomplishes the goal by writing about different viewpoints on why people would be so invested in the sport while he himself interrupts this analysis by writing about his own rooting interest, the University of Michigan Wolverines and their head coach Jim Harbaugh.  The title of the book, and the cover, would make one think that it is only about Michigan and the calls for Harbaugh’s ouster, hence he was on the “hot seat.” This came after the 2020 college season in which Michigan went “only” 9-3, which for that fan base is unacceptable.  Add in the fact that as the 2021 season started, a Harbaugh-coached Wolverines team had yet to defeat its arch rival, Ohio State, and you have some very upset Michigan fans and alumni.
Going beyond just the football, Mathis-Lilley looks for connections between college football fans and other disciplines to learn more about their behavior.  He interviews several people in those disciplines and analyzes their connections in topics like politics (he does show his political leanings but is fair to all political shades), psychology and even visiting other colleges to see what their coaches and fan bases do.  The two schools he writes most about aside from Michigan are Louisiana State University and Florida Atlantic University. The contrasts between the two are stark, and as one might expect, Michigan would be closer to the LSU experience because both schools have a history of success in the sport, but they are still very different.  Their coach, Ed Orgeron, also had his share of controversy and time in the “hot seat” but again, a very different circumstance.
Of course, the book follows Michigan’s mostly successful 2021 campaign, which included that long-sought win over Ohio State for Harbaugh, a Big Ten championship and playing in the College Football Playoff for the first time in school history.  Mathis-Lilley writes more about his observations of fans, himself and others online, more than the games, but the reader will still get a good amount of information on the team and season.  It is just not a pure recap of the season, as that is not what the book is about. 
College football fans, no matter their region or their favorite team, will enjoy this unique look at the game, the fans, and the issues surrounding the sport now.  It is at times, funny, serious, reflective and even controversial, which makes it have a little bit of spice for everyone. It may be a little hard to follow and will take careful reading, but if a reader does that, they will walk away with a better understanding of how the sport reflects its fans and vice versa. 
I wish to thank Public Affairs for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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Interesting book about college football and a group of teams who were under heavy pressure to win.  The book addresses, in particular the coaches who were on the receiving end of the pressures that go with college sports.  I thought the book started slow and early in the book lost some interest until the author really addressed the issues facing, in particular, Jim Harbaugh.  He did a lot of research on a unique individual, and this part of the book was interesting and informative.  Later in the book he talks about the pressures at LSU and their controversial coach, Ed Orgeron. As someone who has great interest in college football, I enjoyed the book and totally understood how crazy things get when winning takes priority over everything.  I done agree with a lot of it but understand know it exists.  To an outsider, this book would not come off as painting a good picture of college football.  Winning at all costs does bring out the worst in a lot of people and that does come across in this book.  Overall, I enjoyed the book and think it is a good read for college football fans,
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