The World According to Steve Patterson

Originally posted by Jonathan Weiler at the ESPN Watch.

In a sit-down with Texas Monthly Magazine, Steve “Total Socialism” Patterson continues to distinguish himself as among the NCAA’s most incorrigible and scattershot defenders. As I’ve written before about NCAA President Dr. Mark Emmert, Patterson seems undeterred by the prospect of contradicting himself from one sentence to the next. This is the guy who, you’ll recall, denigrated as “total socialism” the suggestion that the wealthiest football schools should share more of their wealth, scoffing at the idea that programs that attract fans and TV dollars have an obligation to those that don’t. And this very same guy has insisted that it would be bad for America if players in the sports that draw those fans and TV dollars receive *any* added benefit in comparison with athletes in sports who don’t generate comparable revenue. In other words, when it comes to allocating spoils among *athletes* in the different sports, he’s all for ‘total socialism.’

Patterson was at the top of his game with Texas Monthly. For example, he first lamented the fact that:

“We have allowed ourselves to be trapped,” he says. “All of us, the NCAA, colleges, coaches, and athletics directors. We have done a very poor job of talking about what college athletics really is all about for the 99.5 percent of student-athletes who will never play professional sports. We have allowed ourselves to have a discussion about that half percent.”

OK, so when we talk about what makes college athletics such a benevolent enterprise, we shouldn’t be talking about the .5%.

Naturally, therefore, he then said this:

“I don’t think college athletes are the equivalent of minor-league football players,” he says. “They are students who wouldn’t get into the university but for the athletics and wouldn’t stay in the university but for the sports. If you look at them as a group, approximately eighty percent of them are the first in their families to go to college. In American colleges in general that group has about a fifteen percent graduation rate. With athletes, the rate jumps to between seventy-five and eighty percent. That is because of the resources the university puts toward helping them.”

Of course, if we are talking about *all* NCAA athletes, including the swimmers, the tennis players, the golfers, gymnasts, lacrosse players and so on, then Patterson’s assertions about first generation college students and graduation rates are simply not applicable. Athletes from those sports come largely from affluent families, are not first generation college students and graduate at very high rates (Patterson’s assertions about graduation rates even in his intended comparison group are misleading at best, and flat out wrong at worst). Patterson, as is the habit among NCAA deadenders, has shifted the goalposts. When it’s convenient to talk about the 99.5% when trying to downplay the importance of football and basketball to the whole model, he does so. But when it’s convenient to extoll the charitable nature of the enterprise, then it’s precisely the .5% that he focuses on.

And by the way, the 99.5% vs .5% paradigm is a joke for another obvious reason. Those sports I mentioned above – swimming, golf, gymnastics etc. – have little to nothing to do with whether Steve Patterson keeps his job. Everyone knows that. Including him.

It’s worth noting that Patterson’s characterization of the academic level of the football players also contradicts the party line among his peers. If you’ve heard Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick recently, or Bubba Cunningham or any other AD from a big-time collegiate sports school, you know what that line is: we only accept students who can do the work at the university. Education is the number one priority. Our student-athletes are, indeed, students first. By contrast, Patterson is saying as clearly as one can that these are academic charity cases. They’d simply have no place at the university but for their athletic ability. They are not students first. They are lucky we’ve admitted them to our august premises. They sure didn’t earn it on the merits.

Patterson does no better in trying to explain why the Vince Youngs and Johnny Manziels should receive *zero* dollars for the use of their names, images and likenesses:

“I am not saying they did not benefit the university. But you have to understand that both parties benefit. The university is largely creating the value. The athletes are trading on the value the universities have created. No corporations are going to be lining up to pay them money out of high school. They also get a huge benefit on the college stage by having such assets as strength coaches, nutritionists, psychological support, tutors, mentors, media training. All of that costs money. It is too easy for those in the sports press to say, ‘You are manipulating and using these kids. You are giving them nothing.’ We are not giving them nothing.”

By this logic, it’s hard to fathom how his football coach could be worth $5 million a year, or Patterson himself could be worth nearly $2 million a year. Indeed, coaching salaries make no sense at all if conversations about compensation begin with the premise that it’s the universities that create the value. Charlie Strong might be a terrific coach. But he cannot possibly be deemed responsible for the brand that is Texas football. And Steve Patterson sure as hell isn’t.

No one, by the way, is arguing that the players are receiving “nothing.” But what many critics, and now a federal judge, do argue is that the schools have conspired to fix compensation below its fair market price for college athletes in football and men’s basketball.

Patterson also made the ridiculous assertion that it would “almost certainly” be the case that rowers and soccer players and such would sue on equal pay grounds if football players received additional compensation. Yeah, because the rowing and volleyball coaches are suing the university right now because they’re not making as much as the football coach. And major league baseball players are constantly in court to claim that it’s illegal for some of their brethren to draw higher salaries than others.

Could Patterson himself really believe this nonsense?

- Jonathan Weiler

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