The NCAA is a Dystopia: Why I Wrote “Surviving the Second Tier”

I’m someone who writes about collegiate athletics regularly, but I really wish I could stop writing about the topics I cover.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I’m a former D1 athlete, sportswriter, and doctoral candidate who studies collegiate athletics, so there are few things I enjoy more than writing about college sports. But the writing I do extends far past typical game day coverage and fun, feel-good underdog stories. Instead, I cover the abuse, policy failures, politics, injuries, inequities, and exploitation that permeate collegiate athletics. These are the things that negatively affect NCAA athletes and so writing about these things isn’t really an option, it’s a necessity to me. That’s why I wrote my book.

I never actually intended to write, let alone, publish my debut novel, Surviving the Second Tier, but I was strongly driven to do so. My novel is a fictional dystopia that covers the real-life issues within the college sports industry, and it began as a metaphor. I study sports policy (and love to talk about it), and I needed a more engaging way to talk about my research—when you tell people you study collegiate athletics, they expect a more exciting follow-up than just diving into a policy book, which I’m prone to do. After too many conversations where peoples’ eyes would deaden the minute I began recounting policy to them, I began livening up my research by telling them  “the NCAA is a dystopia” instead. The dystopia metaphor piqued enough interest for me to then dive into the policy issues I’m passionate about: protection against coach abuse, better healthcare for college athletes, employment status, gender equity, and workplace protections, to name just a few. Those conversations seemed to stick and my plot was born.

Surviving the Second Tier tells the story of collegiate athletes in the first-person, allowing the reader to live their lives and face their struggles for a while and along the way, experience the tensions and hurdles college athletes face today. Unlike modern-day college sports, my story takes place in the future under a college sports model where, after years of overspending on designer gear for athletes, expensive, high-tech equipment, and fancy facilities in order to attract recruits, athletic departments became financially depleted. Then, the governing body of collegiate athletics came in with the idea to downsize to a single college sport to save money: fighting. Competition is cheap sport, fighting requires few officials and hardly any equipment, and, as a bonus, the flash of televised fights draws many viewers. My book follows a team of fighters through the postseason as they train and compete through high stakes, injuries, relational tensions, as well as the pressure and stress of being a college athlete that current college athletes will relate to.

I wrote Surviving the Second Tier to teach readers so it’s designed for athletes, parents of parents, and anyone else who wants to learn more about the college sports industry from an athletes’ perspective, and covers topics including recruiting ethics, abuses of power, academics, work/life balance, performance anxiety, and more. It’s also, importantly, a human story about resistance, resilience, grief, fear, dreams, friendship, and solidarity. Athletes, whether college or professional, are frequently dehumanized and often reduced to their statistics or salary totals so the human aspect of my book was a key priority. It is my hope that it changes the way people consume sports and see athletes as advocates push for change in the flawed, but still promising, college sports industry. If any of this sounds interesting, Surviving the Second Tier is available for purchase on Amazon here.

Katie (M.K.) Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin where she studies NCAA discourse and policy. She is also a freelance sportswriter and creative writer on the side. She is the author of a new book Surviving the Second Tier available on AMAZON. Follow Katie on  Twitter and Instagram@leverfever.


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