The way college athletics has been doing business for decades is under attack, and Steve Patterson doesn't like it.
Patterson has been back at his alma mater for just a few months, but he is more than willing to stand up and be forceful voice for collegiate athletics and how its current business model works.
Patterson talked with Michael Smith of the Sports Business Journal while at the College World Series and he defended the present system under attack from a slew of anti trust lawsuits.
He also made it clear that the long talked about era of "Super Conferences" is coming. Patterson acknowledged that there are 50-60 programs willing to expand their services to their student-athletes (full cost of scholarship stipends, etc.) and that the other conferences need to get out of the way.
"There are five conferences that want to do the best they can for their student athletes and provide them with the best outcomes. There’s a bunch of other schools that are fairly atavistic in their viewpoints and want to take the rules back to 1950. That’s not going to happen. They need to let the more well-resourced conferences operate, or these five conferences need to leave. It’s that simple. We’ve waited far too long and we’ve been far too accommodating."
Patterson believes that the elite programs are more than willing to look at cost of living stipends, extended scholarships and medical coverage for their student-athletes. He is also very blunt as to where he points the finger of blame for the so-called abuse of collegiate athletes.
"If you’re a baseball player and you decide after your junior year that you want to go pro, and you follow the rules, we’ll help you come back and finish. If you get hurt and you can’t play, we don’t take your scholarship away. A lot of these claims, at least as they apply at Texas, are specious. What you’ve got are a bunch of trial lawyers and agents who can’t find any more clients in the NBA or NFL. That’s what this is about."
As for the idea of athletes being able to control their own marketing rights, Patterson believes it is an issue that would involve only one half of one percent of all athletes to begin with. And once again he knows where he lays the blame for all the talk of exploitation.
"It’s absolutely agents and trial lawyers that are the whole reason we’re talking about this. You’ve got guys like Jay Bilas out there making the claim that scholarships aren’t worth anything, and nobody says anything to discredit that. … So who is saying with any rationality or any fact that student athletes on a full ride aren’t getting something? They’re just flat-out wrong and they’re liars. And they’re doing the bidding of agents and trial lawyers. The longer everybody waddles around acting like it’s not about agents and trial lawyers, the more silliness we’re going to have out there."
In the article Patterson states that should the NCAA lose these battles, collegiate olympic sports would suffer across the board. He also defends the explosive rise in the salaries of collegiate football coaches as market forces taking over – and that football pays for everything else, so the football coach needs to be a "rainmaker" to keep the overall athletics budget robust.
Perhaps his most interesting comment concerned a lawsuit looming on the horizon. This suit is known as the "Jenkins Case" for Clemson defensive back Martin Jenkins.
But it is their lead attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, who commands the attention of Patterson. Kessler is the attorney who took on the NFL and won, getting their Plan-B free agency system overturned. Kessler isn’t interested in the image issues at the heart of the O’Bannon lawsuit – he is looking to have a free market for the bidding on scholarship athletes.
Kessler contends that the NCAA is an illegal cartel, and the entire system should be blown up. The initial complaint states:
"As a result of these illegal restrictions, market forces have been shoved aside and substantial damages have been inflicted upon a host of college athletes whose services have yielded riches only for others. This class action is necessary to end the NCAA's unlawful cartel, which is inconsistent with the most fundamental principles of antitrust law."
When that lawsuit comes to the forefront, Patterson has this chilling warning for his collegiate brethren.
"I’ve been on the other side of the table from Jeffrey Kessler for 30 years. I don’t think administrators understand what they’re getting into."
This battle over the basic template of collegiate athletics will be fought over the next few years. Obviously Longhorn AD Steve Patterson intends to be fully engaged in the battle.