HORSESHOE BAY — The eyes of the members of the Horseshoe Bay Sports Club were squarely on University of Texas athletic director Steve Patterson on Feb. 12.
Patterson, who has been on the job since Nov. 7, was the featured speaker at the club’s regular meeting.
During his talk, he credited his father, Ray Patterson, for his passion for sports administration, noting he worked for the elder Patterson in the front office of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.
“I started answering phones for the Bucks when I was 11 years old,” he said with grin. “‘See the Bucks for a buck’ was our ad campaign.”
That early job led him to the front offices of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, the NFL’s Houston Texans and the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers before he headed to Arizona State University, where he eventually became the athletic director.
Patterson said being the athletic director at Texas, where he earned a law degree in 1984, wasn’t on his list of career objectives, confirming there was indeed a clause in his contract at ASU that stipulated he couldn’t take a job at any Arizona college or at UT.
After he accepted the Longhorns’ offer, he met outgoing athletic director DeLoss Dodds, who guided the Longhorns for three decades. And Dodds asked him a question: Why did you allow that kind of clause in your contract?
“I figured they’d take you out in a box; you’d never leave,” he told Dodds. “I never planned on coming to Texas at all. I didn’t think anything of (the clause).”
He called the athletic department “the front porch of a university,” noting a solid program, such as the one at the University of Oregon, can attract more underclassmen to a school. He recalled listening to Oregon officials credit the Ducks’ football team for an increase in enrollment that allowed staff members to “tell the story” of their university.
“It’s a huge win-win for us,” he said. “(Some) don’t understand what college athletics does as a whole.”
He has several objectives for the Longhorns. One is to compete for Big 12 Conference and national championships in each sport every year.
Another is to continue to lead the nation in revenue while developing ways for each sport to be self-sufficient instead of relying on football, men’s basketball and baseball to pay for the others. Texas, which won the money race for the fifth consecutive year, brought in $165.7 million in operating revenues for the 2012-2013 school year.
Patterson said ASU staff realize most fans aren’t going to buy tickets to attend a college golf tournament. But Scottsdale, Ariz., is known for its golf courses, so administrators developed partnerships that helped fund scholarships for the golf team, he said.
Another of his roles at UT is over sports facilities. With a new hospital being built where the Erwin Center sits, the tennis team has been forced to find another venue. Patterson also said parking will be a challenge for fans of arena sports and football.
In addition, basketball athletes might not understand what they’re giving up when they decide to turn pro after one year. He noted the NBA has adjusted by giving fewer guaranteed years in contracts. He believes a solution is for the league and colleges to work together to encourage players to stay in college longer than a year by emphasizing the value of an education.
As for paying athletes, Patterson said students are not employees. He sees the hurdles for them, noting the cost of living varies from city to city as does tuition and other things that are part of being a college student.
“I don’t think anybody is in favor of paying players,” he said.
Expansion in the Big 12 is not easy, he said. That’s because administrators are committed to keeping athletes in classrooms as much as possible. The geographic challenges of the Big 12 and finding universities located in cities that have air travel are part of the equation when trying to decide on expansion, Patterson said.
The athletic director said renewing the football series with Texas A&M hasn’t been one of his focuses, adding the Longhorns’ schedules are set through the 2018 season. Some reports say Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been talking to administrators at both schools about the Longhorns and Aggies playing at AT&T Stadium. Patterson said Texas already has a game scheduled there against UCLA on Sept. 13, adding administrators will continue to look at other venues for possible opponents that could include Reliant Stadium in Houston and the Alamodome in San Antonio.
“There’s an emotional attachment they have to universities,” he said. “You don’t have that kind of attachment with pro sports.”
The ESPN-owned Longhorn Network is continuing to negotiate with other cable and satellite providers to get it into more homes, Patterson said. Some contracts are expiring, so television executives usually tell providers that, in order for them to get one network, they need to include the other, he said.
“(Cable providers) need a number of channels,” he said. “I think you’ll see increased carriers by the time football rolls around. They don’t like new startups. It costs them money.”