Department of English


Michael Spooner
Utah State University Press
3078 Old Main Hall
Logan, Utah 84322-3078

Dear Michael Spooner,

I write to seek publication of The Literate Practices of Big-Time College Sports. While drafting
the book manuscript, I published “Writing as Embodied, College Football Plays as Embodied:
Extracurricular Multimodal Composing” in Composition Forum. My article “Supporting
Student-Athlete Writers: A Case Study of a Division I Athletics Writing Center and NCAA
Academic Mandates” is forthcoming in The Writing Center Journal. Expanded versions of those
pieces comprise two of the four chapters in the book, which runs 60,000 words. I have drafted
three chapters and will complete the fourth chapter by January 2016.

As we discussed at CCCC in Tampa, this manuscript is based on close to a decade of working in
and with athletics departments at two Division I schools and one Division II school. My
overarching argument is that student-athletes operate within a highly discursive space that
emphasizes bodily literacy. Student-athletes exhibit this literacy when learning and using
plays, which are text-based performances enacted by the team in unison. My inquiry is direct
and focuses on three questions: what are plays and what do they do? How do student-athletes
learn plays? And, how can we—teachers of composition and rhetoric—better connect with
student-athletes based on my findings? These questions constitute the book’s chapters and
culminate in one essential question: how do student-athletes know? Providing an answer to
this query illustrates the literate practices of big-time college sports.

With the phrase “big-time college sports,” I highlight football and men’s basketball because the
two are commonly the most high-profile and high-revenue sports in an athletics department
and the heavy engagement with text and textual practices within the sports. Basketball and
football rely on text-based plays to coordinate meaning during practice and in a game. These
plays, gathered through digital and physical archival research, are my unit of analysis in
chapter two. I then bring the focus to student-athletes. Qualitative data gleaned from my year-
long case study of a Division II men’s basketball team and my four years of experience working
within a Division I athletics writing center at the University of Oklahoma form my analysis in
the last two chapters. In sum, I move the reader from a text-based analysis examining how a
play as text operates to a user-based analysis examining how a student-athlete engages with a
play as text.

The overarching argument I sketch is needed. Despite college sports’ ineluctable connection
to American higher education, despite repeated calls to reform or outright banish college
sports, and despite fears that the NCAA and athletics departments exploit the over half a
million student-athletes, the field of composition and rhetoric has spoken little on college
J. Michael Rifenburg 2

sports and student-athletes. Debra Hawhee’s Bodily Arts (University of Texas Press, 2004) and
Julie Cheville’s Minding the Body (Heinemann, 2001) are notable exceptions. Hawhee describes
the central role of athletics in the Older Sophists’ 5th century BCE rhetorical training. Cheville
reports on her two-year ethnographic research into the women’s basketball team at the
University of Iowa and argues the cognitive activities of basketball do not cleanly link with the
cognitive activities of academia.

This dearth of work regarding college sports and student-athletes is particularly surprising
considering the field’s long history of student-focused pedagogy and advocacy and its mining
unique, sometimes extracurricular, literate practices. As Patricia Bizzell succinctly states in a
recent PMLA article, “we in this field want to know who our students are” (442). Moreover, the
field is displaying an increased interest in bodily pedagogies and theories of embodiment,
which serves as a method for exploring student-athletes who learn and perform through
bodily movement. Barry Kroll’s The Open Hand (Utah State, 2013) and Kristin L. Arola and
Anne Frances Wysocki’s co-edited collection composing (media) = composing (embodiment)
(Utah State, 2012) stand as indicators of recent attention to embodiment as a pedagogical and
theoretical tool. Additionally, the work of Kroll and Arola and Wysocki offer potential
companion pieces within the Utah State University Press’s series for my proposed book.

My immediate audience is the field of composition and rhetoric, particularly those teaching at
schools with athletics departments and student-athletes. Yet, I write with an awareness that
many readers work at schools that do not offer grant-in-aid scholarships and, as such, do not
have student-athletes per se. Therefore, in my opening chapter I extrapolate my argument
beyond the 460,000 student-athletes currently competing in NCAA-sponsored sports to speak
to the greater number of our students who learn and know through the body. According to the
Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement, 40% of students reported they were “very
much” involved with “Athletic Teams” during high school. Though a small percentage of
students continue playing sports as student-athletes, the National Intramural-Recreational
Association reports 80% of students visit the on-campus recreation center or participate in
intramurals at least once a week. Students, not just student-athletes, learn through their body.

Beyond the field of composition and rhetoric, my book will appeal to colleagues in education
who work with pre-service teachers, specifically future high school teachers who will
encounter the roughly 7.7 million students who play high school sports according to the
National Federation of State High School Associations. Additionally, my book will be of interest
to colleagues in Student Affairs invested in understanding the unique subpopulations of
students that compose a campus.

I imagine my book being used in advanced undergraduate or graduate classes, such as those
that introduce students to composition studies, writing center tutoring and writing center
studies, and extracurricular literacies. It is particularly suited for “Material Rhetorics” and
“Seminar in Literacy Studies” classes that appear at multiple institutions. Special topic courses
or continuing education classes on college sports and athletics will also find my book of

Similar to the voice Kroll utilizes in The Open Hand, I aim to introduce readers to the
constellation of literate practices within college sports through a conversational voice. While
I draw on research on embodiment and literate practice, particularly in chapters one and two,
I avoid a comprehensive literature review, extensive citations, and discursive endnotes.

As a former high school soccer player, high school soccer coach, and sports reporter for a local
newspaper, I have worked with student-athletes and athletics departments for close to a
J. Michael Rifenburg 3

decade. I started my work on college sports as a MA student at Auburn University where I
worked with a freshman student-athlete cohort. I supervised mandatory study hours and co-
taught success strategies and first-year composition for this cohort. As a PhD student at the
University of Oklahoma, I worked in the athletics department writing center for four years as
a program development coordinator. In this position, I oversaw the hiring and training of
writing tutors and developed and implemented best practices in writing center studies for
tutoring student-athlete writers while still adhering to important NCAA guidelines stipulating
how one can academically work with a student-athlete. I taught a continuing education class
and expository writing class themed on college sports and invited athletics department staff
and administrators in as guest speakers.

Now at the University of North Georgia, I finished a year-long case study into the men’s
basketball team. I had the opportunity to attend practices, sit on the bench during games, and
listen in on locker room talks. My goal during this project was the same goal that propelled my
work nearly a decade ago: how do student-athletes know?

Following this query has led me to twice co-chairing a Special Interest Group at CCCC on
rhetoric and athletics, delivering regional and national talks at conferences such as CCCC, the
Biennial Watson Conference, and International Writing Center Association conference, and
publishing in Composition Forum, Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, and Present Tense: A Journal
of Rhetoric in Society on issues related to student-athletes and college sports.

Through extensive digital and archival research, I have accumulated complete basketball and
football playbooks. I have secured the copyright permissions of images of student-athletes and
coaches drawing, signaling, and using plays during practice and games. I have hours of digitally
taped interviews with coaches and student-athletes across a range of institutions that will help
my readers gain an understanding of how the close to half a million student-athletes learn and
know. I actively blog about these issues on my website, write columns for two locals
newspapers, and reach over 500 followers on Twitter. My experience with and in various
athletics departments and the large data corpus I have collected position me well as a
knowledgeable researcher. The digital and print platform I have established will help me
promote this book.

John Duffy, Chris Anson, and Martha Townsend could provide blurbs for the back cover of my
book. My book can also be effectively marketed at conferences, within journals that accept
advertising, and through my current digital and print platforms. My book could be on display
at conferences where Utah State University Press has a presence, such as CCCC, NCTE, IWCA,
Watson, RSA, or CWPA. Journals such as College English and College Composition and
Communication are effective venues for placing an ad for my book as is the Council Chronicle,
the NCTE membership magazine. Also, I will provide the press a list of potential review outlets.

Finally, I believe the following individuals would be well suited to referee my book:

 Martha Townsend, University of Missouri
 John Duffy, University of Norte Dame
 Chris Anson, North Carolina State University
 Michele Eodice, University of Oklahoma
 Richard Kent, University of Maine
 Kevin Roozen, University of Central Florida
 Julie Cheville, Illinois State University

Barry Kroll, Elizabeth Boquet, Bronwyn Williams, and Harry Denny have all published with
J. Michael Rifenburg 4

Utah State University Press and may also be able to provide a review.

Per Utah State University Press’s proposal submission guidelines, I have enclosed an
annotated Table of Contents and the introductory and third chapter. If you wish to discuss my
proposal or the enclosed documents, I am available at or (770)

Sincerely yours,

J. Michael Rifenburg, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of North Georgia
Dahlonega, GA 30597

Cumming Dahlonega Gainesville Oconee
82 College Circle | Dahlonega, GA 30597 |

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