Texas AD Steve Patterson: Northwestern union push benefits only ‘trial lawyers’

Posted April 17th, 2014


Texas athletic director Steve Patterson is watching the events unfold at Northwestern with some bemusement. It’s not about making life better for the athletes. It’s all about trial lawyers lining their pockets, he believes.

If college athletes are allowed to unionize and be paid like professionals, Patterson said the college sports landscape would look radically different.

Most schools, including the University of Texas, would play football, men’s basketball, baseball and maybe hockey. And that’s about it, he believes.


“(The lawyers) care about winning damages in an anti-trust lawsuit from the NCAA and the schools,” Patterson told the American-Statesman during a recent two-hour interview. “This is a bunch of trial lawyers. It’s easy in that environment to talk some kid into feeling oppressed.”

Patterson said he is very comfortable being an anti-union voice among college administrators, many of whom are watching every detail of the Northwestern union story.

Northwestern’s players are scheduled to vote on April 25 on whether they should unionize. Some Northwestern players have told reporters they are thinking about voting the measure down.

“My brethren are the only ones making money on this,” said Patterson, who graduated from the UT law school in 1984. “I can’t begrudge them too much. But you’ve got trial lawyers, probably about as well regarded as state legislators, who are making a buck by defining a very tight class — scholarship-receiving football players.

“Not the walk-ons on the football team,” he added. “Not the women’s volleyball player who’s on scholarship. Not the men’s basketball players, the women’s golf player.”

Only a handful of college athletic departments around the country operate with a net profit. Texas, the nation’s richest athletic department, is one of those. The Longhorns took in $165 million in operating revenues during the 2012-13 academic year and finished with a $9.6 million surplus.

Patterson is supportive of a measure that provides athletes with the full cost of a scholarship. At Texas, that would mean giving each scholarship athlete an extra $3,752, according to figures obtained by the American-Statesman through an open records request.

Given a full allotment of 260.2 scholarships spread across all of UT’s sports, that would be an extra $976,270 that the department would have to generate. Many schools simply couldn’t afford that kind of added expense, Patterson said.

So if schools had to pay players like professionals, Patterson believes most colleges would stop competing in most NCAA sports altogether — expect football, men’s basketball, baseball and hockey up north.

“Then, you wipe out the women’s sports or you get down to satisfy Title IX,” Patterson said. “You’d see smaller rosters on the football side. NFL plays with 55. Why do we need 100-plus? So you whack it down to 55 or 60 football players. You whack it down to 12 or 13 men’s basketball players. So you’re all in with 70 or so student-athletes.

“On the women’s side, that means women’s basketball and rowing. And that’s it. You’re done. Everything else goes away.”

Patterson was emphatically against paying athletes when he met with the Texas media in early April. The university environment is a place for amateur athletics, he said. Patterson was once a NBA general manager with the Houston Rockets. He’s one of the only college athletic directors around with the perspective of being in the professional world and the amateur one.

“Every year as a general manager, I sat there and got the list with 250 names on it,” Patterson said. “They are giving up their college eligibility to turn pro, because all kinds of sleazy (expletive) are in their ears, in their mothers’ ears, in their brothers’ ears, in their fathers’ ears who wanted a piece of what they thought they could get. And they talk them into giving up their eligibility and go into the draft.

“And every year, I’d look at the list and think, ‘Christ, there isn’t five guys on this list I would draft.’ And then of the five guys I’d draft, maybe one can play,” Patterson added. “So the discussion is all about LeBron James. One guy out of 250.

“So we’re talking about a tiny, tiny, tiny minority. And oh my God, these guys should get paid!”

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