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UT athletic director weighs in on controversial issue of paying student athletes

Steve Patterson UT Athletic Director
Athletic Director Steve Patterson Photo courtesy of University of Texas

Steve Patterson, the new athletic director the University of Texas, sat down Tuesday for a press conference to discuss pressing issues facing the program. His disinterest in playing Texas A&M and the future of the Frank Erwin Center may have jumped out to fans, but Tuesday served as a platform for Patterson to go on the record concerning the future of amateurism in college sports.

Patterson's statement comes after the landmark decision by the National Labor Relations Board to allow Northwestern University football players the right to unionize because they qualify as employees.

The Northwestern case is a major turning point in the ongoing national debate over student athletes and whether they should be compensated for earning millions of dollars in revenue for universities. Patterson said Tuesday that the Northwestern case has a long way to go before it affects the University of Texas.

“That particular case is for a very defined segment of scholarship football players at a private institution like Northwestern. That doesn’t include the walk-ons; it doesn’t include any other sport. I’m not saying that to make light of the findings, but it’s a conversation piece,” said Patterson. 

Since the University of Texas is a state institution, it is exempted from any decisions made by the NLRB, and instead falls under the jurisdiction of Texas labor laws. But Patterson, as head of the biggest moneymaker in all of college athletics, has to consider what the movement could mean for the future of Texas athletics.

For Patterson, it signals a need for the leaders of major athletic programs to better convey their message. “I do think what it represents is the poor job that we as an enterprise — I mean all of college athletics — have done talking about the reality of the vast, vast, vast majority of what our student-athletes are, which is students first and athletes second.”

Only a tiny percentage of college players go pro, Patterson said, and even fewer have sustainable careers. Most college athletes are trying to get an education to become professionals in everyday life. He pointed out that UT already makes funds available for athletes who want to come back and finish school. The university also pays for medical expenses due to sustained injuries even after players leave the program. 

“That’s who we really should be focusing on and talking about,” he said, “not the one percent that are going to go on to play professional sports.”

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