JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
HORSESHOE BAY — During his first speech in the state since retiring as the University of Texas head football coach, Mack Brown shared his thoughts on some of the hot topics whirling around college football, including the new national championship format and paying college athletes.
Brown was the guest speaker of the Horseshoe Bay Sports Club on Sept. 3.
During the Bowl Championship Series of the past, fans were assured of No. 1 vs. No. 2. But they often felt shorted after some of the national championship games under that system.
“They didn’t always give the best game at the end of the year,” Brown said. “We got (the top) four. It’ll be interesting to see where the committee goes. Will they punish you for strength of schedule?”
Under the new system, 13 people make up the College Football Playoff selection committee. The committee is charged with selecting the top four teams at the end of the year to compete in a single-elimination bracket with the last team standing crowned the national champion.
Under the BCS system, teams might not have played the toughest opponents in Division I because it didn’t matter. But if the committee factors in strength of schedule, Brown said members of the five power conferences — the Pacific 12, the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 10 and the Big 12 — will only want to play each other.
“You get credit for playing a good team,” he said. “There’s more pressure on coaches. I don’t like that. If you play this schedule (that may not include many Power Five teams) and win, you don’t get in the playoff. We’ll still be griping in January.”
What Brown likes about the new playoff system is that the traditional bowls remain, allowing officials to pick the matchups.
“We’ll see better games at the bowl games,” he said.
Like many fans, Brown said he enjoys contests that pit the best teams from different conferences at neutral sites. But it’s not simply about beefing up teams’ schedules, he said. Those coaches want to be able to showcase their teams in states known for producing the best players.
LSU playing Wisconsin in NRG Stadium in Houston and Oklahoma State facing Florida State in AT&T Stadium in Dallas were not done without recruiting in mind.
Brown also noted the loss of some of the traditional match-ups, including the Longhorns and the Aggies, which ended when Texas A&M University joined the SEC. While he did not want to give his thoughts on renewing that rivalry, Brown said he grew up a college football fan and wishes the Oklahoma-Nebraska game was brought back.
“Because of realignment, we’re losing some of the traditions,” he said.
The second issue that’s really taken college athletics this year has to do with compensating athletes, especially in big-time programs that make millions of dollars from TV deals, sportswear contracts and other revenue-generating mechanisms.
He does not agree that athletes should draw paychecks because they become employees of the universities and must pay taxes. Still, he’d like to go use a system like the one that existed when he was a student-athlete at Vanderbilt and Florida State. He was given $15 for laundry each week. He used that for other expenses.
The former coach said he hears people say many players get a Pell Grant to use. But so many of them come from poor families that they send the money home, he said. And the ones who don’t qualify for the grant usually come from families who make just enough to make ends meet, he added.
And don’t think players don’t know the amount of money in college football, he said. They know the Longhorns made almost $170 million last year.
So Brown suggests giving student-athletes some money every two weeks.
“They can read, they can hear that stuff,” he said. “We should feed them properly and take care of them. We need to give some back. We need to do something to show those players we care.”
When it comes to recruiting athletes — particularly quarterbacks — Brown said it’s tough considering the number and quality of players, especially in Texas. He pointed out it’s not always enough to just look at a high school athlete’s play on the field and statistics.
For Brown, on-the-field accomplishments were equally important to off-the-field success. So he and his staff looked at an athlete’s character, if he had legal issues, and if he met the necessary academic requirements.
“You have to be really careful,” he said.
Since retiring as the Longhorns head football coach in December 2013, Brown decided to take a break from coaching. His most recent job, however, puts him right back in college football, but as an analyst for ABC/ESPN.
Brown enjoys his new role, though he’s still learning.
“I’m having a blast,” he said. “My job is to talk college football, something I’ve been doing my whole life.”
He will be with the ABC family of networks until after the national championship game in January.
“(ABC/ESPN officials) have told me to be myself and have fun,” he said. “You can give your opinions without being harsh.”