Now that Kansas Athletics Inc. already has secured an Orange Bowl title and an NCAA basketball national championship, the protector of all things Jayhawk is playing to win on a different field of competition.
In a jury trial set to begin this week, the department hopes to convince a federal jury to order Larry Sinks to quit printing up Kansas-related designs on blue T-shirts.
The case has nothing to do with timing, officials say, and everything to do with preserving the department's right to manage, license and benefit from designs, logos, fonts and colors that together make up an image for the university and its teams.
"It's no more important now than it was a year ago or two years ago, but the success that we've enjoyed this year has certainly highlighted the importance of this issue," said Jim Marchiony, associate athletics director. "From our perspective, what's at stake is the use of our marks and the goodwill and good name of the University of Kansas. : That's what this is about."
But for Sinks, who sells unlicensed shirts online and through his Joe-College.com shop at 734 Mass., KU's lawsuit is an assault on what he considers his First Amendment rights to say what he wants through paint screened onto a 100 percent cotton garment.
That it might just happen to say "Kansas," or perhaps include a shade of blue selected as the athletic department's own preferred hue, shouldn't matter, he said.
"We're just prepared to fight the fight," said Sinks, whose shirts became popular in recent years among KU students, who often would wear them to class, games and watch parties. "We feel it's our freedom of speech to say what we say on our shirts. :
"I'm a taxpayer in this state, and I have been for many years, and I feel I have the right to use my state name on a shirt anytime I want."
Such issues may seem simple, but there's a reason the case is headed to trial. Already, Kansas Athletics has hired legal counsel that specialize in collegiate licensing issues, and Sinks himself says he has spent nearly $300,000 on his own defense.
At its core, athletics officials argue that Sinks' shirts confuse the public into thinking the clothes are blessed by the department or university. Among examples cited as confusing by KU were blue shirts that might lead someone to believe that they were affiliated with KU's trip to the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech.
Two specific examples feature the words "HAWK FOOTBALL" on one side, and, on the other:
¢ "Orange You Glad We're Going Bowling in Miami!" While most of the writing was in white, the letters forming "Orange" and "Bowl" were in orange.
¢ "Missouri, It's Your Turn to Pick Cotton (nice bowl game)." The Missouri Tigers played in the Cotton Bowl this year.
Another of the football shirts didn't mention anyone by name, but one side proclaimed that "Our Coach Beat Anorexia."
Kansas Athletics wants Sinks to stop making shirts that the department considers as infringing on its "marks," or trademarks that are protected by law.
"There may be some shirts that some would call distasteful that don't infringe on our marks," Marchiony said. "That's not what this is about. : This is about or marks and protecting the good name of the University of Kansas. We deal with this issue all of the time, with other entities who play by the rules.
"That's what this is about."
Sinks, in the past, has said that he had tried to secure licenses for selling KU merchandise, but had been rebuffed. So he decided to go a different route: making fun shirts that wouldn't require licenses.
None of his shirts include a Jayhawk, nor do any say "The University of Kansas." Signs posted on his door and throughout the store and on his Web site emphasize that none of the merchandise offered has been licensed by KU.
Now it will be left for a jury to decide whether his designs, colors and resulting products are treading on Kansas Athletics' legal rights, or otherwise staying just far enough away that he can follow through with plans for expanding into franchises and sales of even more shirts.
Lose, and Sinks won't be in business anymore.
"I'm kind of fighting for my life," he said. "I can't sleep. I'm not having trouble eating, but it's just wearing me to the bone. It's my entire livelihood."
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday morning.
"We feel good about our case," he said. "I'm just hoping for a group that's going to be fair - that will pay attention to what the law is and not the political side."