Almost nobody is spared in Gilbert M. Gaul's latest book, "Billion-Dollar Ball," an examination of the money behind college football programs.

Texas, Oregon, Alabama, Notre Dame and many others take their hits. Gaul does admire Mount Union, a Division III power in Ohio, in a short aside.

Primarily, though, he writes about many of the nation's top football programs, how the revenue the successful teams bring in keeps growing — and how those dollars are spent: on ever-increasing coaches' salaries, improved facilities (needed or not) and keeping athletes eligible in a various ways from tutors to walkers (people paid to make sure the players go to class).

Gaul is a talented writer who built his career outside the sports world. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes and spent more than 35 years as an investigative reporter for several newspapers, including the Washington Post.

In "Billion-Dollar Ball," he mainly draws on interviews with school presidents, athletic directors and other college administrators and paints a picture of how they see college football. His approach is chatty and easy to follow.

What he discovers sometimes confounds him, sometimes disappoints him. Some nuggets:

• Football revenue at the 10 richest programs grew from $229 million in 1999 to $762 million by 2012. Texas alone had revenue of $103 million three years ago and was making a profit from football of almost $78 million. But the Longhorns offered only 20 varsity sports (549 athletes) compared with Princeton's 36 (962).

Gaul's conclusion: "Texas limited the number of its teams by choice and then spent lavishly on those teams in an attempt to win championships, which made the alumni happy and helped to polish the university's brand."

• Fans can deduct 80 percent of the charge for premium football seats as a donation on their taxes.

Gaul: "How do you tell someone that paying a surcharge to secure a seat in the Big House [at Michigan] is, for tax purposes, the same thing as writing a check to the local soup kitchen?"

• Notre Dame signed Charlie Weis to a six-year, $12 million coaching contract in December 2004, and then — after six games in his first season — gave him a new deal for 10 years. He was fired in his fourth season. His severance package conservatively cost the Fighting Irish $17 million.

Gaul questions "the assumption that there are only a handful of coaches who can manage big-time programs like Notre Dame, and that you have to overpay to hire them."

Numbers and a few charts are sprinkled into Gaul's stories unobtrusively.

He does drift away on several unusual tangents. He details Kansas State's rowing program — a fast-growing college women's sport because it helps balance football's hefty numbers on the Title IX scale. He also becomes intrigued with the Alabama cookie lady, whom the Crimson Tide tried to shut down for infringing on its brand before backpedaling.

Don't expect to find "Billion-Dollar Ball" on the bookshelves of any high-profile football coach's office. There are way too many digs at their sport. For a fresh perspective on college football, though, it's fascinating.

Roman Augustoviz is a sports copy editor for the Star Tribune.