“Fight scared, Sis….”

Imagine a world where coercion, control, surveillance, and manipulation reign. Where imbalance of power makes exploitation easy and where those at the bottom of the heap sacrifice everything to make a profit for those at the top.


M.K. Lever’s knockout debut work of fiction, Surviving the Second Tier, weaves these issues and themes throughout a new fictional dystopia to display the real-world truths that face athletes in the college athletic system. 

“I wrote this book to educate readers about the reality of the college sports industry, as someone who has been there before,” shares Lever. “Sometimes, facts and statistics don’t stick with people. Since we are intrinsically wired to follow narratives, I wanted to tell people a story in hopes that the message would resonate in a unique and powerful way. I wanted to give college sports the 1984 treatment and create a narrative that would be impactful and a little unsettling.”


“Finally, a novel that both entertains and informs about the college and university paradigm of recruiting, rewarding, retaining and career placement of athletes…A very impressive debut novel by MK Lever, an informed – and experienced – former Division 1 runner – providing an exceptional story  and encouragement for students to navigate a changing athletic system.”

– Grady Harp, Amazon Hall of Fame Top 50 Reviewer, 5-stars


Photo: Argon Productions

M.K. Lever, a former Division 1 athlete and Ph.D. candidate at UT Austin, combines her personal experiences as a student-athlete and the weight of her academic research in areas concerning NCAA rhetoric, discourse, and policy to create her stunning and emotionally driven literary debut. Surviving the Second Tier depicts a new day in college athletics. The old multi-sport model has collapsed, and the bare bones but extremely profitable Amateur Fighting Association has risen in its place. Where students once competed in a multitude of sports on a variety of playing fields, now college athletes have only the AFA ring in which to prove themselves in full-contact, no holds barred fights to the finish.

Undefeated and on her way to a perfect record, Sicily “Sis” Jones pushes her way through injury and intense stress to maintain both her fighting record and her perfect GPA. Financial pressure, family pressure, and a cut-throat coach add to her already driven nature, keeping her right at the edge of breaking and hungry to win. Most of Sis’s teammates are in no better place – the AFA taps into the pool of poor, disadvantaged kids and the fame attained in the ring to further the profits wrung from the lives of the athletes. Each member of Sis’s team is “fighting scared,” battling the personal demons that drive them and having those expertly exploited by their coach to gain maximum control of his fighters. When the AFA pits Sis against one of her own teammates in competition, a violent outcome fractures the fragile bond between teammates, coaches, and the AFA, changing the game in new and unexpected ways.


Can Sis and her teammates learn to use their voices, rather than their fists, to fight for change and to survive the second tier?

“A stark view of college athletics in a bleak future where fighting is the main sport, all other sports are gone, and an abusive, exploitive, charnel house of multi-division Fight Clubs is all that exists. By stripping out all familiar names or descriptions in a novel focused on the three fighters,  M.K. Lever adroitly brings attention to the plight of college athletes and athletics today.

– Brad Butler, Author, 5-stars


As a graduate student researching NCAA policy and rhetoric, Lever began to describe college athletics as a “dystopia” and soon found that listeners engaged more with the ideas she was sharing.

“Surviving the Second Tier is different from other dystopias,” explains Lever. “It targets the college sports industry, inviting the reader to spend some time living and experiencing the life of a college athlete rather than just watching them compete or reading about them in the media. I wanted to present the real-world issues that affect college athletes in an engaging and palatable way and give a bigger picture of the issues beyond just economic exploitation, which is where most of the public discourse focuses.”


“This is a one-of-a-kind book, an emotionally striking, multifaceted narrative of manipulation and control that is both chilling and revealing. Surviving the Second Tier is a valuable contribution to current conversations around the abuse, control, and exploitation of college athletes.  M.K. Lever has given us a knockout work of fiction – college athletics meets the Hunger Games….”

– Jessica Tofino, Educator, and Writer, 5-stars


“I want readers will be drawn into the emotional world of Sis and the other characters and begin to see that the college sports industry isn’t as glamorous as it looks from the outside,” says Lever. “I want to humanize college athletes, help readers to see them as whole people, rather than just game day statistics or salary totals, and educate them about the problems these athletes face.”


With its gritty dystopian flavor and emotionally resonant characters, Surviving the Second Tier makes readers take a hard look at the sordid side of college athletics—the personal sacrifices, the politics involved in keeping athletes hungry and ready to compete at the top of their game, and the exploitation of talent and over-the-top drive.

M.K. Lever skillfully wraps information, education, and advocacy in a sparse, moving, and emotionally enthralling story that will keep readers in its grasps until the last page.


About M.K. Lever

M. K. Lever is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas, researching NCAA rhetoric and policy and working as a freelance sportswriter and sports consultant. She graduated from Western Kentucky University with a B.A. in Communication Studies and an M.A. in Organizational Communication. While at WKU, she was a Division 1 athlete running track and cross country and was a two-time Sun Belt Conference champion in track and field (indoor and outdoor).

Lever’s debut novel, Surviving the Second Tier, combines her personal experiences as an athlete with her academic research to bring attention to issues such as corruption, censorship, exploitation, and abuse that affect the lives of the athletes within the college sports industry. Lever is an advocate for college athletes and an active member of her church, where she sings and hosts a small group. She resides in Austin, TX.


Featured Image: Argon Productions
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