Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte on the field after a 33-16 win over Missouri during the Texas Bowl NCAA college football game in Houston, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Football

College administrators weigh college amateurism issues at UT symposium

Posted March 29th, 2018

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In the wake of scandals that have raised concerns about the viability of amateurism in NCAA athletics, some of the top athletic administrators in the country are clinging tight.

The FBI investigation into college basketball was at the center of discussion Thursday during the Intercollegiate Athletics Media Symposium hosted by the University of Texas Center for Sports Communication and Media. Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby headlined the panel.

“For me, I’m against all of it,” Del Conte said when asked if student-athletes should be paid. “Only 1 or 2 percent of our athletes go pro. … The rest of them have a chance to get to change their life through education.”

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Bowlsby shot back against the idea that the NCAA should even be considered amateur, because of the payment athletes receive back in the form of an education.

“I really don’t believe that college athletics is either professional or amateur,” Bowlsby said. “The co-curricular, higher education model only exists in the United States. It’s really its own model. … It isn’t professional, certainly, because the compensation is tied and tethered to the cost of education.”

Paying athletes has become a hot-button issue in the wake of recent reports that college basketball players at several high-major programs have been offered, and in some cases accepted, large sums of money from agents and shoe companies.

“For them not getting anything, we’re sure spending a lot of money on their experience,” said Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne. “… There’s a value on (charter flights) compared to jumping on a bus and going on a 12-hour bus ride. There’s a value in the way we feed them, the level of coaching they have, the mental health support that we have, the life skills that we teach.”

Del Conte pointed to the example of Mo Bamba, the Longhorns basketball player who announced earlier this week that he is leaving Texas after one season to enter the NBA draft.

“That’s life-changing money for he and his family,” Del Conte said. “Go do that. I love that.”

Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, who worked previously as an attorney for the NBA and later became president of the WNBA, said she believes men’s basketball players should not be barred from turning professional straight out of high school.

“We put together some ideas” at the request of the NBA, Ackerman said. “I think it would be good to see if a ‘none and two’ is workable, if the (players) union and the NBA could agree to refrain from drafting a player who elects not to go to the NBA out of high school out of high school.”

In that model, high school players would be given the option to enter the draft or play at least two years in college.

“That would give NBA teams more time to evaluate them and create a little more stability for our (college) coaches.”

Former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe moderated the panel with the conference commissioners, while New York Times deputy sports editor Matt Futterman asked questions of the athletic directors. Students also asked questions.

Outside of amateurism, the symposium also touched on the change in scale of athletic departments, the future of media rights deals and how new tax laws could affect athletic departments.

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