The Jayhawks, Sanctions and the Role We All Play…

by Andrew Malan Milward, author of Jayhawker; On History, Home, and Basketball

In 2016 I was hired as an English professor at Auburn University. After the fall semester, I called an old writing buddy of mine to catch up. I liked the town and university very much, but I also tried to tell my friend how crazy the football fandom was in Auburn. He listened to me talk about the flotillas of RVs that started arriving to tailgate on Wednesdays before home football Saturdays and how the town’s population doubled on gameday because so many people came in from out of town for the game. He listened to me talk about the millions of dollars that were just spent to give Jordan-Hare Stadium the largest Jumbotron in the country and how head coach Gus Malzahn seemed to get a lucrative contract extension after every win and then would suddenly be on the hot seat after every loss. My friend listened to this and much more and when I was finished, his response was: “So, basically, you work at a shell company for a professional football team.” I laughed because it was a funny joke, but it was the kind of laugh that caught in my throat because I knew there was some serious truth in what he had said.

I know something about sports fandom. I was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and I was raised in Lawrence, Kansas, so I was geographically predisposed to be obsessed by basketball. UK and KU are the two winningest college basketball teams in the history of the sport, which means I come from places where lunatic fandom for the men’s basketball team is the norm. And, indeed, I am a fan, a real sports junky whose spirits and moods have a direct correlation to the rise and fall of the winning percentage of teams I adore, and there’s no team I adore more than the University of Kansas men’s basketball team. Given the amount of time I devote to watching, thinking, and writing about sports, I could easily add Fan to my business card next to Writer and Professor.

At present, like many KU fans, I’m both excited for the start of the new season but also anxious about the future. The ongoing and unfolding scandal surrounding the University of Kansas men’s basketball team and its relationship with Adidas is real, and while we wait to learn the full fallout from the NCAA’s recent Notice of Allegations it seems likely that there will be serious repercussions. Scandals of this sort, of course, are nothing new, and none but the most naïve onlookers wearing rose-colored specs should be surprised that they have happened and will continue to happen because players have been receiving so-called improper benefits forever. Wilt Chamberlain, the greatest player ever to don the crimson and blue, talked openly in his autobiography about how KU boosters paid him to come to Lawrence. He was, and is, not alone, and neither is KU. It’s not a question of whether it’s happening; it’s a question of how it happens, who gets caught, and how badly they will be punished.

Perhaps that sounds cynical, but I think it’s just the logical and predictable outcome of a situation in which, to borrow my friend’s pithy turn of phrase, we’ve let universities turn into shell companies for professional sports teams. There’s simply too much money involved for this game to be uncorrupted and ‘pure,’ the way some fans want to believe it is, and the way the NCAA certainly wants us to continue thinking it is. The role of money and worry over its potential to corrupt the game is nothing new, I should say. It goes back nearly to the beginning of the sport. In 1911, James Naismith, the inventor of the game and KU’s first coach, gave a speech that was transcribed and published as an article titled “Commercialism in Sports” for the Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas. It is a well-written and carefully argued polemic about the “insidious growth of commercialism” and its ability to “destroy one of the greatest forces of education.” Naismith believed, correctly I think, that commercialism leads to over-training and the breaking down of athletes’ bodies, it makes work of sport and turns it into a spectacle instead of recreation, it puts the emphasis on winning instead of enjoyment and personal development and thus encourages breaking the rules and stimulates betting. He also thought it leads to “worship of the dollar” and “class distinction, for when a man is paid for his services in athletics he is on a different level from the man who buys him.”

Over one hundred years after Naismith gave this Cassandra-like warning about commercialism, I imagine him going absolutely centrifugal in his grave right now, given the current landscape of sports, particularly basketball and football, in universities. As William J. Baker writes in his introduction to Naismith’s book, Basketball: Its Origin and Development, “Whatever its later commercial developments, basketball was made for principled play, not for profit…. Naismith designed his new game for athletes to enjoy, not for coaches, television networks, or corporate sponsors to control.”

photo from ksha.org

Naismith’s star pupil and successor as KU’s coach, Phog Allen, however, was quick to realize the monetizing potential of the game. One of the issues he and Naismith clashed over was whether tickets should be sold for KU games, which had quickly become quite popular in the years after Naismith brought the sport with him to Kansas from Massachusetts. Rob Rains writes in his biography of Naismith, James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball, that “Allen wanted to use the strong interest in basketball that was developing on campus to generate as many sold tickets as possible, while Naismith considered selling tickets an exploitation of the student athletes. Allen argued that bringing money into the university through the sale of basketball tickets would benefit the other university sports as well.” Of course, ultimately, Phog’s opinion won out. Money has a way of making that happen.

I think they were both right, at least in theory. And yet, selling 10-cent tickets for admission to a game isn’t exactly on the same scale as earning hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals and television contacts. How we got from there to here is a longer, much more complicated story than I’m capable of telling here, but in short it has a lot to do with the growth of American business after World War II and the commodification of so many aspects of our lives theretofore unknown. However, it also has to do with the growth and popularity of the game. That is to say, it has a lot to do with us and our intense fandom that demands winning and thus incentivizes massaging, bending, and sometimes breaking the rules. (Whether we think those rules are sensible or foolish is another matter altogether). We should remember this when the penalties come down on our beloved Jayhawks and we’re sad and angry and eager to cast blame. Here are my own thoughts on that matter: the players certainly aren’t to blame, even the ones who knowingly accepted money. The coaches and shoe companies, sure. The agents and the NCAA, you bet. But so am I and people like me, the fans who love the game all out of proportion. We are all complicit in this scandal and we should be part of finding a solution.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but our love and demand for the game has created a mighty big and lucrative pie, so it seems sensible to let players have some of it, not just coaches, universities, and the NCAA. We should allow players to profit on their name, image, and likeness, allow them to have a job or profit on their abilities the same way every other college student can, and we can provide all players, from stars to the last person on the bench, with a modest monthly living stipend and lifetime academic scholarships.

Thankfully we are finally starting to see movement on some of these issues. If nothing else good comes from the scandal, perhaps it will have at least pushed the conversation forward and helped usher in necessary changes. I think that’s something all of us fans should cheer for.

Andrew Malan Milward was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and raised in Lawrence, Kansas. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is the author of two short story collections, The Agriculture Hall of Fame and I Was a Revolutionary. His fiction has appeared in many venues, including ZoetropeAmerican Short FictionVirginia Quarterly ReviewThe Southern ReviewGuernica, and Best New American Voices and has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award. He is an assistant professor of English at the University of Kentucky.

Conrad Roberts Named Director of University Press

by Jill A. Hummels, Office of the Provost at The University of Kansas

An individual with more than 15 years of experience at the University Press of Kansas has been selected to be the publishing house’s next leader.

Conrad Roberts, University Press of Kansas

Conrad Roberts, who had been serving as interim director and business manager since September 2016, has been given a permanent appointment to lead the organization. Based at the University of Kansas, University Press of Kansas (UPK) represents a consortium of six state universities: Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, Pittsburg State University, Wichita State University and KU. UPK publishes scholarly books in several genres, but stands out for its books in American history, environmental studies, Native American studies, politics and law. It also has an extensive collection of offerings in military history, including the renowned series called Modern War Studies.

“Conrad has done a remarkable job as interim director and clearly understands the challenges and opportunities within the publishing industry,” said KU Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Carl Lejuez. “Through his prior experience as the business manager at UPK, he’s helped the entity remain valuable through a time of dramatic change in the publication of content as well as in wholesale and retail markets. It will be fascinating to see how he guides UPK for the years to come.”

Roberts holds a bachelor’s degree in general studies with an emphasis in history from KU and an associate’s degree in business and finance from Coleg Powys, now part of Neath Port Talbot College in Wales, United Kingdom. He was on the KU Men’s Golf team from 1997 to 2001. Roberts’ first exposure to UPK was as a student employee in the warehouse. After graduation from KU, he briefly pursued a career as a professional golfer but returned to UPK to serve as its warehouse manager. He was then named interim business manager and soon after was officially appointed to that role. As business manager he was responsible for all financial aspects of UPK as well as management of customer service and distribution center activities. In July 2015, Roberts was named assistant director and business manager. In addition to his business manager responsibilities, Roberts led the creation and implementation of a strategic plan to further the success of the organization. In 2016 he was named interim director and business manager, which added operational oversight, and supervision of four departments and 20 employees.

“My goals for the press are twofold,” Roberts said. “First, I want to make sure our press continues its mission to disseminate excellent scholarship to the widest possible readership, from scholars to students, to general readers. Second, I want to get our revenues back to where they were before the impact of the recession in 2008. Our marketplace changed significantly shortly after 2008, when we saw chains like Borders go into bankruptcy, so it’s important that a press diversify its revenue streams by adding new initiatives, collaborating with new partners, and promoting additional services a press can offer to faculty, staff, and students.” Roberts said UPK will continue to print books in all formats and make them available as eBooks, ensure that books are available in print globally through new distribution agreements, and intends to increase its annual output of new titles from about 55 to about 75 by the 2020 fiscal year.

Roberts is a past member of the Association of University Presses’ Business Handbook Board and has served as a panelist multiple times for the annual AUP Financial Officers meeting. He is still active in golf and is the Kansas Golf Association’s 2018 Mid-amateur Player of the Year. He is also a member of the Kansas Golf Association Board of Directors, and captain of multiple golf teams representing the State of Kansas on a national level.

Five questions with University Press of Kansas Director Conrad Roberts

Is there anything about University Press of Kansas that leaves people pleasantly surprised or shocked when you’re in a casual conversation about UPK with them?

I think there is a misnomer about university presses in general; we don’t publish college newspapers or yearbooks, nor do we have printing presses, so folks I run into are surprised to hear that we are a publishing house. Once that is understood, the expectation is that we publish only Kansas authors and works about Kansas, so they are surprised to hear that our authors are from all over the world and our books are available for sale globally. I don’t think many people realize just how influential the University Press of Kansas actually is, but I believe our slogan sums us up perfectly: Heartland Roots. Global Reach.

What do you see as some of the big challenges facing UPK?

Marketplace uncertainty. By this I don’t only mean the struggles of independent bookstores, college bookstores, and some of the larger bookstore chains, but also the fact that our books are being sold into a marketplace that is no longer clearly defined. For example, a retailer acquired a wholesaler and now buys their books through the acquired wholesaler, which makes it increasingly difficult to know your target audience.

Why is this important? It’s important because it affects pricing and discounting. Obviously everyone wants the best possible price for a book, and the University Press of Kansas prides itself on pricing our books competitively, but when an end user like a retailer becomes a wholesaler, margins for a book become narrower so presses have to adjust accordingly.

Also, the strength of a press has typically been in scholarly monographs, which we hope end up in classrooms, but because of additional marketplace competition in the textbook market, we have seen declining sales in the scholarly monographs because of factors like a strong used-textbook market, as well as piracy, which is hard to monitor. The combination of all these factors has a negative effect on how we are able to predict our marketplace, which makes pricing and print run decisions a daily challenge for a press.

What is the most popular title at UPK?

The most popular title in terms of lifetime unit sales has been a book called “Kansas in Color” by Andrea Glenn; it sold 60,000 copies. Published in 1982, this book captures the rich textures and subtle beauty of the Kansas landscape through 100+ color photographs. More recently, a book titled “American Serengeti” by Dan Flores has sold over 12,000 units through its available formats of hardback, paperback, and eBook. Published in 2017, this book was the winner of the Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize and explains that America’s Great Plains once possessed one of the grandest wildlife spectacles of the world, equaled only by such places as the Serengeti, the Maasai Mara, or the veld of South Africa.

What is the most influential title in the past 10 to 20 years at UPK?

This is a great question, and one that has many answers. I polled our staff knowing I would get varied responses given the diverse list of books we have published over the years. I received a response for “The Myth and Mystery of UFOs,” by Thomas Bullard, which has readers fascinated with the culture, folktales, and history of alien encounters. I also received praise for a book called “Novus Ordo Seclorum” by Forrest McDonald — this title was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and made the University Press of Kansas the go-to publisher for a whole generation of constitutional and political philosophy and history authors. We also published a book called “Education for Extinction” by David Wallace Adams; a comprehensive account of the federal government’s Indian education program, a program that saw the removal of Indian children from their homes to boarding schools where they could be “restructured” both psychologically and culturally. Even though this book was published 23 years ago, it is still being used in classrooms today and is our most adopted book.

The most influential book to me is Frank and Jayni Carey’s “The Kansas Cookbook,” because it is the book I use most frequently; although they now have “The New Kansas Cookbook,” which includes the state’s favorite recipes and food traditions. This title is a close second!

The term influential is up to personal interpretation, but I have to look at the titles we have published that have won the most prestigious awards—I would consider these amongst the most influential the UPK has published. “Explicit and Authentic Acts” by David Kyvig is the most complete and most insightful history of the amendment process and its place in American political life, and it was the winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize — one of the highest honors awarded to books about diplomacy or the history of the Americas. We also published a book called “The Contested Plains” by Elliott West; this title won both the Francis Parkman Prize, an annual award by the Society of American Historians for the best book in American history, and the Ray Allen Billington Prize, an annual award by the Organization of American Historians for the best book on the American frontier. A strong argument can be made for either one of these books to be the UPK’s most influential.

Are there statistics you can share that indicate something about the operation at UPK?

  • We publish on average 60 titles per year.
  • We have published over 2,600 titles since 1946.
  • We have 1,884 books in print.
  • We have won 153 total awards since 2010.
  • UPK books have been translated into 26 different languages.
  • We have average 150 author events per year.