Patterson: Game-day experience, paying athletes
Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson recently completed his first year on the job after replacing DeLoss Dodds. Patterson inherited the most profitable college athletic institution in the country. He spoke with Orangebloods.com about his first year in Austin (prior to the football team's final game).
Here is the final installment of our three-part interview with Patterson:
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Q: Let's talk about the game day experience at football games. As a newcomer, I believe the game day experience can be more enhanced. What is your assessment of where the game day experience is now and where would you like it to be?
A: I think before we got here, it hadn't changed much from the time I was a student until I came here with this job. That's part of the reason we engaged the Disney Institute. That's part of the reason we engaged 10 Fold Entertainment. We started to change the game day experience in football halfway through the season. I think if you've been over to the basketball games, you'd see a dramatic change in the game day presentation. The reality is, people have to feel like they are getting good value for their investment of time, emotion and money. When they go to an event, they got great options all over this state, and this city, for how they spend their entertainment time. We'll continue to work on improving it. Some of these things will take some time and capital, so improving sound systems, improving WiFi, some of those things will take some tweak in the culture. A key at any great college event is the involvement of the student body. If you can get the student body interested and electrified, that energy runs through the rest of the building. It gets the old guys with sore knees, like me, out of their seats. We spent a lot of time talking to students, talking to the rest of our season ticket holders, talking to our donors, about what they want to see in the event to make it better through surveys and conversations. I think we're making progress. Are we better? Yeah. Are we where we want to be? Probably not. Sometimes that takes surprising sorts of twists and turns, having to sit down with the head of officials for a conference, a commissioner, the band director, student body president, or a whole host of folks to get input - to make tweaks and changes, prods and pokes, and get it to where you want to get it.
Q: Nothing against jetpack guy, but it can be more exciting.
A: I don't disagree. As we go forward, you'll see more changes. You'll see changes when we get to the baseball season and softball season. You've got to make sure that all the constituent groups that come to our events, and when you have 100,000 people in the football stadium, or 17,000 people in an arena, or 8,000 people in a baseball park, you're going to have different perspectives. Where exactly is the happy median? That's what we're going to work through. I would say 99 percent of the feedback on the changes we've made at basketball have been positive. There's going to be one percent that is not happy, but you're never going to make people 100 percent happy no matter what you do.
Q: It doesn't seem like you're a proponent of athletes getting paid. Do I understand that correctly?
A: I think universities and conferences in the NCAA have done a very poor job of explaining the benefit of what student-athletes get at major universities when they are a student-athlete at those schools. At the University of Texas, if you're a football player, the benefit you receive for room, board, books, tuition, fees, training, and student services is about $69,000 a year, tax free. If you were to pay taxes on that, that would put you in the top 1/3 of the household incomes in the United States. For the basketball team, it's $77,000 a year, men and women, tax free. That would put you in the top ¼ of the household incomes in the United States. I don't think that having the opportunity to come to a great institution, like the University of Texas, and play basketball or football, and be in the top third quarter of the household incomes in the United States, graduate from here with no debt, be able to have the connections you're going to have for having come here to give you the opportunities to go forward in life in much better circumstances than you otherwise would normally have means you're being oppressed.
Q: If you can put a dollar value to what a scholarship is worth, why not just tack on $5,000 and give it to a kid?
A: Well, assuming the vote goes forward, as we expect, there will be an adjustment for full cost of attendance, which at the University of Texas will roughly be $5,000. That's something we've been proponents of. I was a proponent of it when I was at ASU, but that's different in my mind than professionalizing, or unionizing, student athletes. That's a very different discussion. I think I've been very clear, people who are driving the train toward unionizing student athletes really are trying to change the rules to benefit one half of one percent of college student athletes who might have a chance to go on to the pros, and drive more of the revenues to those student athletes. When the reality is, if they want to be an employee, if they want to be in a professional job, they should take that issue up with Roger Goodell and the union president of the NFL, or Adam Silver, the union there, and the ownership of those teams in those two leagues. If they want to come and be a student-athlete, and they want to have a great experience, and they want to get an education, come here. If they don't, God bless you. Knock your socks off. Go deal with those guys. The restrictions on professionalization are not made by the NCAA. They're made by the leagues and the unions who have made a decision to limit the point in time in which young people who have athletic prowess can come into those leagues. There's not a beef with the NCAA or us.
Q: If kids are not getting their education, or there's an egregious issue, like at North Carolina, what is the real value of a scholarship if people are not getting the full teaching they should receive?
A: How much responsibility does the institution have, and how much responsibility does the student-athlete have? I think that's the kind of discussion in a situation like that you've got to have. I'm not going to sit here and defend all 1,000 college institutions out there that have athletics at some level. What I'm saying is, at the University of Texas, if you want to come here and do your work, and show up down on the fifth floor, and do what Randa Ryan (Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student Services) tells you to do, and do what your coaches tell you to do, you're going to have a far better outcome at the end of four of five years at the University of Texas than any place else in the country. I'll put our academics up against anybody in the country. I'll put our success rate for those student-athletes who come in here that may not be coming out of high school with as high of GPAs or SAT or ACT scores as some other kids, and you look at the successes we have, it's as good or better than anyone in the country. If you come here and want to do the work, you're going to get a real education, and have a much better chance in the job market when you leave here.
Q: You understand that when people see the NCAA making billions, people want a piece of the pie, right?
A: Who wants a piece of the pie are the agents and their trial lawyers. You go look at what happened. The judge says we're going to put full cost of attendance, and maybe $5,000 for name, image and likeness going forward for the football team and the men's basketball team, and the trial lawyers turn their bill into the court for $52 million. Who came out better? You think the colleges are using the students? Who is really using student-athletes? The guy that goes out and does three months of work and wants $52 million. Give me a break. That's what nobody in the sports industry will say.
Q: But the perception is universities are making money.
A: But they are not. There are maybe six athletic departments that break even or make a buck, and we're one of them. Last year, we spent money out of our reserves largely because of the changeover in the football and AD positions, and a little bit of debt we had to pay back. Most ADs are in conversations right now saying, 'Wait a minute. If I have to come up with $10,000 - for some of the other schools, the full cost of attendance differential is less, so $7,500 a kid times 500 kids - I'm going to have to talk about cutting sports.' If you really want to talk about this as a business, you don't carry 135 kids on the football team. You do the NFL model and carry 55, and all of the sudden, those other 80 kids are out of luck. Now, multiply that by 350 or 500 schools. At a lot of schools, up to 85 percent of kids are first-time attendees, and you're going to take that opportunity away from them all so you can give a bunch more money to one half of one percent of college student-athletes. In all years, we're the most revered baseball program in America. We average one student-athlete that even gets a cup of coffee in the majors. All the years we've been playing basketball here and the NBA has been out there, we average less than half a student-athlete that goes on to play in the NBA. All the years of success Darrell Royal, David McWilliams, Fred Akers and Mack Brown, three, maybe four, get on a roster for any period of time. At best, in any given year, we're going to have maybe five guys out of 500, and we're Texas. We're number six in the Director's Cup.
Q: What do you say to the person who says, "Little Johnny wants to take his girl on a date and doesn't have to money?" He's making the university money, but he can't take his girlfriend to the movies.
A: His benefit is $69,000 a year. We said we'll do full cost of attendance. You get guys that go out there and get in front of the camera and say I didn't eat this month, and they are standing there with $400 headphones. Kids make decisions. I've made lousy decisions. There were plenty of months I was eating at El Patio. I could walk over there and didn't have a lot of money. I still eat there. You've got to make the right decisions, and sometimes you make bad ones and sometimes you make good ones.
Q: If we sit down again one year from now, what would you want to accomplish in the next 365 days?
A: Last year we were sixth in the Director's Cup. I think in a go-forth basis we should be in the top five, and eventually we should be hunting down Stanford for number one. I want to see us grow the GPA another tenth of a point. Eventually get to a 3.5 if we could. I want us to be the best public institution academically in our athletic department of any public school out there. I'd like to see our non-revenue sports be more self-sufficient. To do that, we're going to have to grow the endowment, so we shouldn't be third in the conference anymore. We're out to be first in the conference, and growing that dramatically. I want to make sure we surprise and delight our customers, and the game day experience is better - everybody says it and has a better time. I want to see our football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball parks sold out for every event, and people really enjoying it. I want to make sure we've operated ethically and we don't have any issues with the NCAA. Those are the things I think would be successful.