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  • Writer's pictureJim Sukup

Learning From the History of Basketball Times

INDIANAPOLIS - History, both of the fairly recent and not-so-recent variety, often has a way of getting away from us. You are likely reading this because of your interest in Basketball Times, which was published for the final time in May of 2021, along with your continuing interest in college basketball in general. BT was published for some 40 years (43 to be exact), and it owes much of its success to the vision of Larry Donald, who owned the publication for 20 years.


Let’s review a short history, along with some interesting tidbits of BT from a non-insider perspective.


My articles did appear in BT for about 15 years, from 2005 up until the last issue, all under the watchful eye of John Akers. But I was far from the inner workings of the publication. The Volume 1, Number 1 issue of BT was printed in October of 1978 by Starpoint Publishing Corp. by Publisher Edward Bomze and Editor Jay Meyers. It was called College and Pro Basketball Times during its first two years of existence, and appeared 20 times per year. The typical issue during its first two years ran between 20 and 32 pages, and it covered both pro and college hoops.


Larry Donald purchased it in 1980, with his first issue as publisher Volume 3, No. 1 in December of 1980. Donald’s first season produced 16 issues, ranging from 16 to 24 pages per issue. Under Donald, the focus of the magazine trended towards the college game, and it stayed that way.


Following Donald’s initial season, BT came out with 12 issues per volume, with each volume beginning in the fall of the year. A typical season up until 1993-94 would include single issues in October and November, two issues in December, January and February, and single issues in March, April, May, and June, although there were occasional changes depending on the circumstances.


In October of 1993, beginning with Volume 16, BT issues began to be published with monthly cover dates. The listed day of the month varied widely, including the 1st, 10th, 15th, 20th, 30th, and 31st. Sometimes no day was given, possibly in error.


Beginning with September 1998, issues contained only the month without a specific date. That continued on until the last issue was published.

In February of 1983, BT announced the purchase of Midwest Basketball News, a newsletter published 18 times a year by Dave Jones, who had written several articles for BT. MBN was published from the fall of 1978 to 1983, and it was once called Fred Taylor’s Midwest Basketball News. As Ohio State’s coach from 1959 to 1976, Taylor guided the Buckeyes to the 1960 national championship, and he wrote articles for MBN and gave the publication name recognition. The first mention of it in BT's masthead was the December 10, 1983 issue. That ran in BT's masthead until the September 1, 1997 issue (Volume 19, No. 12).


An interesting add-on to BT was one which many subscribers never saw. From December 1988 through at least April 1995, members of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association received a copy of BT that included The Tipoff the official four-page publication of the USBWA. Up to 7 issues of The Tipoff along with BT were mailed to USBWA members during the season.


BT named both a coach of the year and player of the year from 1982 through 2021. BT’s player of the year selections were, with only one exception, on the consensus first team all-America list as found in the NCAA Record Book. However, BT’s coach of the year picks sometimes differed considerably from those of other organizations. The NCAA Record Book lists five or six media outlets that gave Division I coach of the year awards in the 40 years BT also did so. In 17 of those years, BT’s coach of the year differed entirely from all of those other entities.


BT’s most anticipated issue of the year was undoubtedly the November issue, with its conference-by-conference outlook. Each Division I conference was analyzed, with a writer predicting how teams in that conference would finish. The BCS conferences usually received more coverage than some of the “mid-major” conferences, but every team in each conference was covered. The November issue was often more than twice the number of pages found in a normal issue.


Jay Meyers was editor for BT’s first two years. Larry Donald then took over when he purchased the magazine in 1980. Donald appointed Mike Sheridan managing editor of BT in 1984, a position he held until leaving for Villanova in 1998, and he continued to write a column for BT until its demise. Donald resumed as editor until his unexpected death in 2000 at the much too early age of 55. Donald accumulated many honors during his tenure. He was presented with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Curt Gowdy print media award in 1998 and was cited 19 times by the USBWA in its annual writing contest. Donald was also the only two-time USBWA president, and was inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in 1997. Nanci Donald became BT’s owner after his passing, and she appointed John Akers editor in 2001.


John Akers purchased the BT from Nanci Donald in 2011. Akers won 22 USBWA awards during his tenure as publisher and editor, and he was inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in 2019. Akers was president of the USBWA for the 2012-13 season. It is interesting that both Donald and Akers were lead editors for about 20 years each, Donald from 1980 to 2000 and Akers from 2000 to 2021.


Both Donald and Akers had at least one thing in common regarding the distribution of BT, and that was a strong dislike of the postal service. Problems experienced by subscribers were legendary, with complaints of issues being delivered far later than they should have been, two different issues being delivered on the same day, non-delivery of issues, and other problems.


I distinctly recall my NCAA tournament preview issue for 1981, the first season of my subscription, being delivered after the tournament was completed. I fired off a scathing letter, which was of no use because there was not much Donald could do about it but complain to the U.S. Postal Service. Delivery problems did improve through the years (I date stamped almost every issue I received), but Akers was still fighting the occasional delivery lag up until the very end. I occasionally received issues in Indiana before he did, with the printing being done not far from his office in North Carolina.


Magazine circulation can be a tricky issue, especially when many publications are turning to digital content and distribution. It appears that BT circulation was at or near an all-time high in the late 1980s to early 1990s, according to publisher’s statements in the magazine. In 1988, the figure for the number of issues produced nearest the publication date was 23,658, and the average for the last 12 months was 19,991. Compare that to 2002, when those numbers were 5,356 and 4,056, respectively. Fast-forward to 2019, and we get values of 2,377 and 2,401, which included print plus electronic editions.


These figures predict the ultimate fate of BT. This is an age of instant gratification, and monthly publications are not delivered nearly fast enough for lots of folks these days.


Those that are familiar with my BT columns know that I was, and still am, a numbers guy. The list of BTs’ regular contributors under Larry Donald and John Akers from 1980 to 2021 was printed in the final issue, including their years of contribution to the magazine. This list provided another opportunity to play around with numbers.


In the 41-year span of these 2 editor/owners, a total of 118 regular writers contributed to the publication. Among them 60, or slightly half of the contributors, were part of the publication for 3 or fewer years, 27 writing for 1 year, 18 for 2 years, and 15 for 3 years. Going one step further, 29 wrote for 4 to 9 years, leaving another 29 that wrote for 10 to 40 years.


Contributors whose bylines appeared for 25 or more years deserve special mention. Topping the list are Bob Ryan and Dick Vitale, both with 40 years on the rolls. They were with Larry Donald from the beginning of his BT tenure. Next were a trio of writers with 37 years each, Rick Bozich, the aforementioned Mike Sheridan, and Dick Weiss.


This essay was certainly not intended to be a complete history of BT but attempted to provide a few interesting facts and highlights that you may not have known about. BT is gone, but not forgotten. Nor should it be, as its legacy lives on in College Basketball Times.

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