Texas president Greg Fenves, left, and Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte point towards the south end zone before an NCAA college football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Football

Whys of Texas: Del Conte believes ‘We’ve got to define what the new modern amateur athlete is’

Texas, Texas A&M athletic directors discuss the future of amateur athletics at Texas Tribune panel discussion

Posted October 2nd, 2019

Advertisement

It’s football season, and we’ll address some relevant Q&A’s related to this week’s Texas-West Virginia scrum in a moment.

But questions about the future of the NCAA, amateurism and collegiate sports as we know it are front and center this week. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will allow that state’s college student-athletes to accept endorsement deals and profit off their name, image and likeness beginning in 2023.

Of course, the NCAA has begun an immediate pushback. This whole issue is likely headed for the courts, possibly even the U.S. Supreme Court by the time it’s all said and done.

Advertisement

Considering the heat that’s been generated, it’s worth going back and reviewing what was said during a Texas Tribune panel last Friday about amateurism itself.

University of Houston chancellor Rena Khator was straightforward in her belief that “California going alone on it is not a good thing. But having a conversation on this topic, I think, is timely.”

“We should think about it,” Khator said. “We should have a conversation, we should try to see if there is a way to define the right medium.”

Like most of his counterparts nationally, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte is not in favor of paying players. “Outside of the G.I. Bill, college athletics provides more aid for young people to get a degree,” he said. “We look at name, image and likeness. I think things are changing. I think we’ve got to define what the new modern amateur athlete is.”

Texas head coach Tom Herman and athletic director Chris Del Conte embrace on the sideline before the LSU game at Royal-Memorial Stadium. [Stephen Spillman/For Statesman]
Del Conte believes wholeheartedly that the issue ultimately affects only “1-2% of the people in our program” that are headed for professional sports.

“We got 523 student athletes. We graduated 137 last year. They’re going to become productive citizens in our society,” Del Conte said. “And if you look around the country, only 30% of the United States population has a college degree. And yet, the average loan debt for that child is about $13,000 per kid. We have a trillion dollars that people have not paid back.

“Kids are coming to school to get an education for F-R-double E,” he added. “And that rhetoric has been lost. Now we’re talking about the one or two kids that have a chance to go pro and do something extraordinary that way.”

Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork, while still relatively new to his post, said Johnny Manziel’s value to the school during his time on campus was unlimited. Still, Bjork said, “I believe in the collegiate model.”

“At the same time, it’s a new day,” Bjork said. “And if we have our head buried in the sand, and we just say amateurism until the day we die, then that’s a losing conversation.”

It’s a fascinating, multi-sided topic that will be debated to death. NCAA officials and college educators must know that change is coming. Will they be ready?

On to this week’s mailbag …

From everyday fans to Jay Bilas to Lebron James shout “pay the college players”. Have you ever seen anyone create a plan that would make it feasible across the board? From Texas State to Ohio State? Lacrosse to football? Women to men? I haven’t. They keep shouting, though. — Benjamin

Look, we will never reach a point where athletic departments are “paying” players. It will never, ever happen. Why? Title IX, mostly. If you’re not going to discuss paying the women’s javelin thrower the same as the quarterback, then you can’t even have the conversation at all. Sorry, folks. Federal laws are crazy like that.

That’s why you’ll see the NCAA eventually bend on the name, image and likeness issue. It’s the only way for players to get “paid” for their true market value, and it won’t come out of the athletic department’s pocket.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) runs onto the field before the Sept. 21 game against Oklahoma State. The Longhorns won, 36-30. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

I think too many people are ignorant about this specific point. Only a small handful of college athletic departments are profitable. Yes, Texas is among them. But hundreds aren’t. So no, these schools literally cannot afford to pay athletes. Again, allowing athletes to profit off their name by accepting endorsements is the only way out of this bear trap.

School officials have only themselves to blame. When you go around bragging about paying a football coach $75 million, you are inviting trouble. When you crow about the revenue generated from a 100,000-seat stadium with suites and luxury boxes, people are going to notice. When you sign a lucrative TV deal for a basketball tournament worth billions, yes, someone is going to ask how much the players are getting.

Let Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger get paid for doing ads for the local car dealer. Let guard Courtney Ramey sign with Adidas or Under Armour or New Balance, although he’d still have to wear Nikes while in a UT uniform per the school’s contract with the sneaker company. That’s where this thing is headed.

Are these athletes prepared to pay taxes on all that new revenue? Eh, why get bogged down with details?

Which current Texas athlete would most likely be the Franklin BBQ spokesperson if paying athletes was allowed? — Nick

Excellent question. My guess would be any offensive or defensive linemen. Big dudes hawking big brisket. Can you imagine defensive end Malcolm Roach looking into the camera and saying, “When I’m not crunching ribs, I’m eating them!”

Then you could have offensive line coach Herb Hand showing the players how to cook it. What’s funny is that Aaron Franklin could sign Hand for an endorsement deal right now and it would be totally legit. The players, as of now, are still off limits.

This feels like a good time to include this photo of some fine-looking brisket. [Scott Moore/Austin360]
One argument I’ve also heard is, “Oh, Oklahoma or Alabama will have their donors pay a recruit X while our local car dealer is only paying Y.” My response to that? So what? Teams can still sign only 25 players a year, and half of those recruits typically don’t pan out like you thought. You still are allowed only 85 total scholarships. One team cannot hog all the best players. And trust me on this, even big-money donors have personal salary caps.

I know Herman says when we play our best, we can beat anyone. Texas didn’t play their best against Oklahoma State but still managed a W. Do you think that’s a sign on how good this team is or does it tell a different story? — LonghornSteve86

I truly think it’s a sign of progress that Texas won an ugly game. That might be putting it too politely, too. The mismanaged fourth-down call? Oh dear. Those two botched punt returns? Yuck. But give the Horns real credit. They still made enough winning plays to beat a team I think will still be hanging around come November. I do agree with Herman on one point, though. Texas cannot make a habit of trying to win ugly.

Texas running back Roschon Johnson (2) finds the edge against Oklahoma State defense in the first half of an NCAA college football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]
Do you think Roschon Johnson will be used in any “wildcat” or other direct-snap formations against OU? — HipGnosis

Well, if the offensive coaches are planning that, don’t show it against West Virginia. The Horns should be able to beat the Mountaineers straight up with no trickery. It’s a great idea, though. How about the Wildcat formation, a direct snap to Johnson and some kind of pass? He was a quarterback, too, you’ll recall.

Cornerback update? Jake

As of this writing, I’m expecting to see Kobe Boyce and Anthony Cook as the two starting corners against West Virginia. D’Shawn Jamison will be in the mix and probably Kenyatta Watson II as well. Now, how much will they play? That’s ultimately up to cornerbacks coach Jason Washington and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. Don’t expect starting corner Jalen Green (shoulder) back until probably mid- to late October.

Our DBs were 7×7 gods and now look mortal in real games. Is 7×7 very misleading on game-time talent? Johnny

There is merit to this argument, but you may get serious pushback from high school and college coaches. With today’s spread offenses, football has become basketball on grass. Defensive backs are taught to let the receiver make the catch, then get him on the ground. Whatever you do, just don’t get beat over the top.

Most college coaches aren’t going to let their corners do press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Most college-level corners just aren’t good enough for that. And the whole idea is to live another play.

How did Collin Johnson go from a game time decision 3 weeks ago to still being held out of practice? Donito

On the Thursday before the Rice game, one of my sources told me that Johnson had already been ruled out that week as a precaution. Herman would say Johnson was a game-time decision. That’s what the coach said, so that’s what got reported. I didn’t think much about it either way. Hamstrings are tricky devils. The Horns don’t need Johnson against Rice, so sit him down and get healthy.

Texas head coach Tom Herman and wide receiver Collin Johnson (9) watch as the team warms up before an NCAA college football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]
For Johnson to miss Oklahoma State? That caught me off guard. I assumed he would go against the Cowboys. Herman typically gives the late-week injury updates after Thursdays practice, so we’ll see what he says then.

What do you think the chances are that Whittington redshirts the rest of the season like hinted at a few days ago? — Joshua

I’m not sure what you mean by hinted. Herman said Whittington’s recovery was on track, and the freshman could be cleared to practice again after the WVU game. Does that mean he will automatically play against Oklahoma? Not sure. This week, Herman said redshirting Whittington is not on the table at the moment. Why? The coaching staff doesn’t think he’ll be at UT long term (think five years). Play him now whenever he gets healthy.

If we play Texas A&M, is that game in lieu of Ohio State, LSU, Alabama or in addition to? I mean, would the Aggies replace Rice/Tulane or the prime game? — Navid

That’s the big question for Del Conte and Herman, seems to me. You want to swap out Alabama with A&M in 2022 and 2023 and deny your fans a chance to travel to Tuscaloosa? You want to blow off a trip to Columbus to play Ohio State in 2026 so your fans can visit the Dixie Chicken? Probably not. Just a hunch. I can’t see Herman all excited to play one non-Power Five team, A&M and then a glamour game, either. That’s a huge ask.

If Texas and A&M restarted their series, you’d have to put that game at the end of the regular season. At least that’s what I would push for.

What is your opinion on the state of A&M football. After 5 weeks of year 2 of the Jimbo era, I am not impressed, especially considering he is a $7.5-million coach. And they have fallen behind Texas in recruiting. — Longhorn94

Frankly, I picked Auburn to win at Kyle Field but regretted it that Saturday morning. I thought for sure A&M would get that win. Then I picked A&M to win easy over Arkansas, and I found myself totally confused. A&M’s got a solid defense you can build on. But you can’t throw interceptions in the end zone, either. A&M has two weeks to prepare for Alabama on Oct. 12.

A quick check of the recruiting rankings shows that Texas is currently fifth nationally, according to 247Sports’ composite ratings. A&M is 13th. You can’t judge too much from either of those rankings here in early October. Check them again on signing day.

It sucks that “top 25” teams have such cupcake schedules and are rewarded for it. — Mike

Herman actually addressed that issue a few weeks ago. Until we get uniform scheduling across college football, it’s always going to be out of whack. The Big 12 has nine conference games, for example. The SEC has eight. I do believe the College Football Playoff selection committee takes strength of schedule into account when compiling its rankings every week. LSU and Texas should be rewarded, or at least get special consideration, for playing each other in non-conference, for example. Same goes for Clemson and A&M, should both teams end up near the top of the rankings. Feast on nothing but cupcakes, you’ll get a tummy ache.

Not about Texas but a general CFB take I want to hear someone else’s opinion on. 2019 Clemson is 2015 Ohio State. Massive favorite at start of year, a lot of same players as last year but it doesn’t click for some reason. — Nick

Here’s my thought after last weekend. Is Clemson vulnerable or did North Carolina just play out of its mind? Clemson averaged 44 points per game last season. This year, that number is down a tick to 38 points per game. You have to remember, every team has been laser focused on playing Clemson all offseason. The champs always get everyone’s best shot. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is terrific, but he does have five interceptions so far.

My other random thought after last weekend: Is Ohio State the best team in the nation, not Alabama or Clemson?

Have a question for the Whys of Texas mailbag? Send them to bdavis@statesman.com or via Twitter (@BDavisAAS).

Comments