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Time for a Chat: Steve Patterson Speaks (Live)

AD Steve Patterson sits down with Texas Monthly for a public conversation about the state of Texas athletics and the future of the program. Join us at 6pm Central for a liveblog.

Erich Schlegel

Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson speaks as part of Texas Monthly's "TM Talks" series, beginning at 6pm. Check back here for live coverage, or if you're in Austin, join the event at the AT&T Conference Center on campus.

5:39pm - So far it's me, some sleeping undergrads, a local sports writer and some dudes whose main interest appears to be the possibility of winning a free Yeti cooler from a sponsor drawing.

5:47pm - Update: it's a very small Yeti cooler. I'd expect more from a purveyor of high-end Hill Country real estate.

5:53pm - The AT&T Conference Center has free Wi-Fi. And mints. And pens and notepads. Which is all you look for in a conference center, really.

6:00pm - This appears to be like the kickoff for Longhorn football games: they say 6:00 when they mean 6:07, and there are lots of empty seats.

6:10pm - Patterson popped in for a moment. 1) He's pretty tall. 2) Disappointingly, he is not wearing this suit.

6:18pm - Here we go.

6:20pm - Texas Monthly editor points out that Texas has a lot of sports. That's insight, folks.

6:22pm - When asked what his favorite sport to watch is, Patterson won't take the bait and play favorites, says he loves the stories that come out. Then points to volleyball and swimming as two great experiences of the past several months.

6:23pm - On the difference between Texas now and when Patterson was a student here: "Earl Campbell was running amok and we were dancing on the Drag after every game."

6:25pm - Says many of the complaints people have about watching college athletics haven't changed much over the year, but the biggest change is probably the growth of women's athletics.

6:27pm - Womens' athletics growth drove a lot of the increased commercialization of Texas athletics over the last 25 years. Says women's AD Chris Plonsky is "a great teammate" and keeps him "from going off the rails" at times.

6:28pm - Do we have parity between men's and women's sports? Patterson: "Yeah, I think we do."

6:30pm - On dealing with the Mack situation when he began. "I just look at it as doing your job... We owe him a great debt of gratitude."

6:33pm - About "not making everyone happy" with hiring decisions: "The key is to take in those points of view... and make the best decision they could possibly make. It's the press' job, at times, to try and foment the conflict or controversy. In many respects, it's not anywhere near as large as it is assumed."

6:34pm - "If the football team doesn't play well, at or above expectations, you're not going to be able to drive the business."

6:34pm - Says he talked to Coach Strong this morning, Kansas was "an expected win... Charlie clearly understands the challenge before him... He's given people the chance to buy in and participate, if they can't get there, they should probably go somewhere else."

6:35pm - On how decisions to boot players off the team are made: "Those decisions aren't made willy-nilly." Says academic progress, off-the-field behavior, law enforcement issues are taken into account. Says problems in one area usually indicate issues in other areas. Says having 9 kicked off the team isn't a surprise, "isn't a particularly large number given the variety of issues you can have with college students."

6:38pm - Asked if Strong's 5 core values are something that really needs to be said in 2014; then if the core values apply all sports. "I think they are, and generally they should be applied. As a parent, I know what a tough job it is... I am often struck, and it doesn't matter if it's this campus or ASU or other campuses I've been on, on the lack of skillset that kids are supposed to have... Sometimes you need to have surprisingly simple rules to get somebody up to where they need to be."

6:40pm - On Strong's meeting with NFL commish Roger Goodell: It was a private conversation... but from his experience at the NBA, systems need to be put into place to teach players life skills, particularly when you're getting younger players out of HS/college into pro leagues. "I think the pros can look to college to create models for a much more complicated kind of relationship that you haven't historically had in the pros."

6:43pm - "It's a privilege to play sports here, not a right. If you're not comfortable with a higher standard, don't come here. Go somewhere else."

6:47pm - Says Texas and other schools need to do a better job out of telling the stories of the student-athletes who don't get into trouble.

6:49pm - Moving on to safety and concussions. "There's a misperception in general that colleges don't look after their athletes... we get more concussions from the women's soccer team each year than football."

6:50pm - "We have been proponents of using best practices from the Princeton studies... our doctors make the decision about our kids going back on the field, not the coaches."

6:51pm - Should Ash have not played against UNT? Says doctors said it was okay, but if he got hit again, it wouldn't be so good. Ash said after the game he reported symptoms.

6:53pm - Asked how UT can continue to be "the Joneses". What is the plan to keep UT moving forward? "College athletics as a whole are underleveraged... when I was in the pros, we would have killed to have the multi-generational emotional attachment [of college]." Looking at expanding facilities, "tremendous upside" on the sponsorship side, looking at how to make money off of $7 million of unsold ticket inventory. Also looking at how to make Longhorn Foundation less about transactional ticket relationships and how to endow teams and coaches.

6:55pm - How would endowments work? Current model is to sell football, baseball, men's basketball tickets to fund everything else. Stanford is at the other end of the spectrum - no suites in their football stadium, no advertising signs. For Texas, strategy is to look at teams separately and figure out the model that will work best - cites fundraiser golf tournament with 8-10 alumni players.

6:58pm - Says cost to fully endow a student-athlete position in perpetuity is $750,000.

7:00pm - "We're going to do things at UT that look more professional, like a full-blown ticket operation... We'll be looking to use our facilities for more events... Those are the kind of things you're going to be looking at to provide the services so we can have the best possible outcomes for our student-athletes."

7:01pm - TM editor is worried "we are leaving amateurism behind." That ship sailed a long time ago...

7:04pm - Are we at a point where we are going to start paying players, or sharing more revenues with them? Bigger schools are in favor of paying "full cost of attendance" to athletes, but smaller schools have voted it down. On players wanting more money, a basketball player "says he can't afford to eat while he's wearing his $400 headphones... I know where his lunch money went." Adds he did the same thing when he was a student, except spent his money on "another Jimmy Buffett record or something."

7:06pm - Patterson asserts that UT football/basketball players earn compensation that puts them in the top third of US households.

7:08pm - Says out of the 500 UT athletes, "3 or 4 or 5" each year have the chance to go pro.

7:09pm - "The reality is there are more agents than there are professional athletes, and that's the problem." Says that agents and trial lawyers are behind the moves to get more money to college athletes.

7:10pm - Says "leverage" again when talking about playing a basketball game in China. Think we're up to 6 or 7 now. "It's incumbent upon us to enhance the brand and tell the story of the University of Texas across the country and around the world." Cites Notre Dame playing in Ireland and UCLA having 70 retail stores in China (really?) as evidence that Texas is behind the curve on this.

7:13pm - "Leverage" again, followed by "activate" three times when referring to ASU activities around a bowl game in San Francisco. Then they apparently set up some deal with Kraft (the bowl's sponsor?) on the back of the bowl to get $40 million in funding and research. Going to China or Mexico is about "Expanding the totality of the business" and getting resources from around the world to support the University as a whole. I must admit, he's losing me here.

7:16pm - Says the academic side of the university "sees the value of athletics" and that people who invest $1 with athletics invest $3 in academics.

7:18pm - We have to continue being a leader in revenues... we are going to see a new tennis facility, the south end zone project in the football stadium, "something around a new arena, over time", and would like to see all scholarships endowed within the next 10 years.

7:19pm - Public questions now. First up about the Erwin Center and how much the game experience matters, and how much they've thought about improving it there. Says the Erwin Center site is very valuable to the medical school because of location and view corridor issues. Says Austin "has had a free arena for the last 3 decades with no investment whatsoever... to be a top 25 city and not have invested a nickel in an area is quite a position to be in."

7:21pm - Not satisfied historically with the gameday experience, so brought in the Disney Institute, also "engaging" people with experience in the NBA. When pressed to name specific improvements, says "a more modern gameday experience, a driveway-to-driveway experience", better service, better scoreboards. (You will note no real specifics in there...)

7:24pm - Met with some people this morning about Wi-Fi in athletic facilities... apparently it would take $7.5 million to get the Wi-Fi at DKR up to scratch. (What ever "scratch" is for a football stadium.

7:25pm - Next question, hidden in a long statement from a guy who "has been here 20 years" is about how great it would be to revive the A&M rivalry. "I understand that view... but A&M made that decision." Paraphrasing here a bit: Patterson is yet to see someone make a compelling argument to go 90 miles down the road rather than to play, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame or other national power to go play Texas A&M.

7:28pm - Creating a staff position solely to engage with students. Talking about experiences at ASU to make things more exciting for students: naming the student section in the football stadium, DJs at basketball games.

7:30pm - Calls out need to create better tailgating experience since "we are going to lose a lot of parking spots" going forward.

7:31pm - Asked if UT is going to add a men's soccer team, on the back of the World Cup and the growing popularity of the sport. Patterson is hesitant to add sports on the backdrop of lawsuits and uncertainty there. Parlays this into comment about paying players and scholarships, saying that half the athletic scholarships in the country will disappear if they have to start paying athletes.

7:33pm - What is AD's role is with top donors? Patterson again brings up transforming Longhorn Foundation to move away from ticket transactions and to move to philanthropic giving. "I spend a good bit of time with a number of our donors."

7:38pm - And that's all she wrote, folks. A few observations and prognostications on my part:

  • Patterson is a business manager, not fan-in-chief. He spent a lot of time talking about the organization and structure of the athletic department, giving the impression that the football program wasn't the only place where things were in deep need of a shakeup.
  • There were only about 60 people in attendance -- for the amount of complaining that gets aired about the AD and the athletic department, that doesn't seem like many.
  • He's also politically savvy and personable. He's got a sense of humor, seems happy to talk with people, and is also maneuvers his way around tough questions in the way we wish our running backs could.
  • Patterson is very passionate about the negative impact paying players would have on college athletics, but beyond the philosophical implications, it's the type of uncertainty any adept business manager would do his very best to avoid.
  • On a couple of occasions, he mentioned restructuring the Longhorn Foundation and connecting with a wider group of people on more philanthropic/less ticket-based issues. To me reading between the lines, that sounds like a really nice way of saying he's working to cut out the undue influence of big donors.