Announcing the University Press Fantasy League

This week in North Philly Notes, Ryan Mulligan, acquisitions editor for Temple University Press’s sports and sociology lists, writes about the University Press Fantasy Football League he began in honor of our forthcoming book on fantasy sports.

In March 2020, Temple University Press will be publishing a book on the sociology of Fantasy Sports, entitled Whose Game?: Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports, by Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah Winslow. The topic is sociologically interesting because unlike most sports cultures, Fantasy Sports are online games where players should be on relatively equal competitive standing regardless of gender or other embodied inequalities. But, in fact, the authors argue, many male participants in fantasy sports leagues invest their participation with a lot of meaning because it serves them as a place to enact a hegemonic masculinity they feel is denied to them in other aspects of their life, one often bound up with boyhood ideals. This investment leads them to make the online interactive spaces less than welcoming to competitors who do not resemble the identity they are trying to perform. It can also lead them to concentrate on their Fantasy Sports teams at the expense of other priorities in their lives.

Kissane approved_061319My coworkers at Temple are excited about this book, but they are newcomers to the idea of Fantasy Sports. As we launched the forthcoming book into production, we decided one good way to learn about its subject and become better advocates for the project would be to start our own TUP Fantasy Football Team. And as long as we were starting a Press team, we thought it might be fun to compete against our fellow university presses, in a University Press Fantasy League, or UPFL if you will. Hopefully, it would prove a more fun and welcoming environment than some of those described in the forthcoming book and allow us to build some friendly ties with our fellow university presses.

Fantasy Football is an online game in which teams score points each week based on the achievements of real-life players in NFL games throughout the season. Each team maintains a roster of players by drafting, trading, and starting virtual analogs of real players, who earn points each week based on the performance of the real player. In our league, each participating press will maintain one team throughout the season and go up against a different press each week.

FantasyLast week, 13 teams representing our colleagues at different university presses joined Temple University Press in our UPFL. My colleague Ann-Marie Anderson and I crafted an invitation that we sent out to the Association of University Presses e-mail listserv. I was, frankly, taken aback by how much interest there was immediately, with many responses coming in within minutes with the general gist of, “I don’t know how I’m going to work this out with my colleagues but yes, I want to be a part of this.” I had not been sure that there would be enough interested presses for a respectable eight-team league, but we ended up with a fourteen-team league and had to turn people away. Reading Whose Game?, though, I should have expected the interest: many people find fantasy sports a particularly accessible way to compete and connect with others in a sporting culture, even if they may not be athletic themselves. In fact, many nerdy men in particular, turn to fantasy sports as a way of investing their nerdier instincts with associations with hegemonic masculinity from not only sporting cultures, but also from the performance of analytic decisiveness and managerial power. Knowing this, I was glad to see that the fantasy players we’d recruited included a number of female managers.

Screenshot 2019-09-04 17.03.39In my opinion, all participants acquitted themselves well at the League’s draft on Wednesday September 4, on the eve of the NFL season opener, with the arguable exception of Yahoo’s draft servers, which were slow, a feature that consequently stifled in-draft conversation between teams. My colleague Ashley, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, was pleased to see Temple select Steelers running back James Conner with the Press’s first round pick, the ninth of the draft. She was disappointed to see Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster go to Trinity University Press’s team, so she suggested we offer a copy of Temple University Press’s book, The Steelers Encyclopedia, in exchange for Smith-Schuster. After several attempts thwarted by the aforementioned busy Yahoo servers, I threw the offer into the in-draft chat window. Daniel Griffin of Duke University Press astutely pointed out that the fairness of this offer would have been easier to evaluate if I’d included the specifics of the Encyclopedia’s binding and illustration program. At the end of the draft, Temple’s team looked respectable, if skewed somewhat towards players with connections to the Philadelphia Eagles, including Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Nick Foles (the last of whom was unfortunately injured in the season’s first week of action). Colleagues crowded around the computer to see what this game looked like and how players think about it, which will hopefully help as we pitch the book to its audience. I’d like to thank all the fantasy players and presses who are participating, listed below, as well as the players we had to turn away when the league filled up for their interest.

Wishing all a happy season, in publishing and in fantasy.

Participants:

Columbia University Press

Duke University Press

Longleaf Services/UNC Press

LSU Press

Purdue University Press

Temple University Press

Texas Review Press

Trinity University Press

University of Illinois Press

University of New Mexico Press

University of South Carolina Press

University Press of Colorado

UP of Mississippi

Wayne State University Press


Update on our team–1st week’s results: 
Temple University Press won our matchup this past weekend against Duke University Press by a score of 112.14 to 91.76. (Scores in fantasy football with a lineup of this size and standard scoring are typically around 100 points.) Our team saw excellent performances from Indiana running back Marlon Mack (25.4 points) and Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker (17.5 points) and was further aided by our move to take advantage of the Jets matchup against the Bills and start the Jets defense for a week. You may have heard that the Eagles’ wide receiver Desean Jackson also had an excellent week (27.4 fantasy points) but unfortunately I left him on the bench this week, so those points did not contribute to our total. Depending on how he and our other wide receivers do next week, I’ll have to consider moving him into our starting lineup on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, former Eagle and current Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles, who we’ve rostered as a backup quarterback, broke his collarbone on Sunday. So I’ve gone ahead and replaced him with the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. I also added San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert, who has an opportunity since San Francisco’s starting running back was hurt last week. He gets the Jets’ roster spot and we’ll go back to our default defense of Houston this week, facing the Foles-less Jaguars.
This week we face off against J Bruce Fuller, managing editor of Texas Review Press. Yahoo projects a close game.
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Reflections on the AFL and its merger with the NFL

This week in North Philly Notes, Charles Ross, author of Mavericks, Money, and Men, blogs about the AFL and the growth of the NFL.

As I sat watching the NFL draft I couldn’t help but think about the AFL and its merger with the NFL in 1970.  Pro football is clearly the most popular sport in America and that popularity is largely due to the rival leagues calling a truce and becoming one.  The last two teams to win the Super Bowl were original AFL teams–New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, and interestingly they struggled to achieve success as members of the AFL.  They never won an AFL Championship but the Patriots have won four Super Bowls and the Broncos three.  Maybe more importantly Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams probably didn’t anticipate the teams that made up the so called “foolish club,” being valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, when the original franchise fee was $25,000.

Mavericks_smEvery original AFL team including the two expansion teams have played in the Super Bowl, however, there are two NFL teams that have never had that experience, the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. Again the Browns and Lions picked early on Thursday night, both teams since the merger have arguably struggled to field strong teams led by great quarterbacks and solid defenses, the usual ingredients necessary to reach the pinnacle of a successful pro football season.  The draft was virtually parallel to the percentage of African American players in the NFL, in essence the overwhelming majority of players selected were black.

The two universities that I owe much of my professional success had a historic night.  The Ohio State University where I received my Ph.D. had five players selected in the first round and the University of Mississippi where I have spent the last twenty years since leaving OSU, had three players selected in round one for the first time in school history.  Three of the five players from Ohio State were African American and all three from the University of Mississippi, of course having five players selected in round one for perennial power OSU was not necessarily a surprise.  But for the University of Mississippi to have three players chosen was, unfortunately the controversy that surrounded offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil’s fall to the Miami Dolphins because of posts on his social media page dominated the media’s focus and took the spotlight off what both programs had achieved.

Arguably the growth of the NFL since the merger is a real testament to pro football’s marriage to television.  The medium of television helped to increase the value of franchise’s, players contracts, coaches contracts, and profits from owners.  Large amounts of money fuel these relationships and ultimately the same relationships at the collegiate level.  Billy Cannon signed his contract to play for the Houston Oilers instead of the Los Angeles Rams after the Sugar Bowl in 1960, on New Year’s Day.  Cannon had agreed to contracts with both the Rams and the Oilers which was a NCAA violation, and he signed his contract on television under the goalposts when the game ended.  This was great publicity for the AFL and set the tone for the next six year war between the AFL and NFL.  The saga of Tunsil also played out on national television but like Cannon many fans will want to know more about this young man and his ability to be successful on the football field during this upcoming season.  The Miami Dolphins think he will be successful and so do I.

A lot has changed since the merger but one thing has not, the success of teams will be established on the field.  Publicity both positive and negative will continue to characterize aspects of what is now America’s favorite sport, in many ways the NFL has reached a zenith where the only competition is itself.  Pro football is not competing against the NBA or even major league baseball, its chief competition now is its own public perception.

 

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