5 corrections to Texas AD Steve Patterson's NCAA defense

Erich Schlegel

The NCAA won't stop facing lawsuits, so its defenders should work to construct better arguments.

Texas administrators can't stop talking about the potential compensation of college athletes, but the NCAA probably hopes they do soon. Previously, we fact-checked Texas athletic director Steve Patterson after his comments about the Northwestern unionization effort, and we showed why Longhorns women's athletic director Chris Plonsky actually hurt the NCAA with her testimony in the O'Bannon lawsuit.

Now, Patterson is back in the news again, having given a forceful interview about the NCAA's critics to the Sports Business Journal. Make sure to read the full interview — go for the hilarity, stay for the Jay Bilas attack — but here are Patterson's five most ridiculous quotes and what makes them so wrong.

1. "We're spending all of this time talking about one-half of 1 percent of our student athletes [who have the power to market their likeness]. Not the 99.5 percent of student athletes who are supported by these programs."

This is a common argument from NCAA defenders, but it's flawed: "what's the point in allowing players to market themselves if only a few can anyways?" The real question should be, "what's the point in not allowing athletes to market themselves if so few of them are affected?"

Of course, far more than 99.5 percent of athletes would benefit from being able to market themselves. Heck, there are a number of athletes at every FBS program who could make some money doing local advertisements, while stars like Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow might be able to garner national endorsements.

Patterson also brings the funding of non-revenue sports into the mix. Texas isn't going to lose any money if one of its athletes gets some endorsement money, and therefore it will still be able to support its non-revenue sports. This tired point is just a deflection.

2. "You're going to take this money and it's going to gravitate to a handful of guys on the football team and maybe a handful on the basketball teams. And so what's going to happen to the budgets? It's going to wipe out men's sports and it's going to wipe out women's sports."

There are many reasons this will not happen (mainly because athletes are predicted to get, at most, 10 percent of TV revenue). But for more on why this point makes no economic sense, please see our past articles.

3. "If athletes are employees, what's the point of going to class?"

This hits on the unionization issue more than the O'Bannon trial, but it gets back to the NCAA's main point: athletes aren't really students if they're paid. There's pretty good evidence that a lot of athletes aren't really students right now, but the idea that being an athlete and being a student are mutually exclusive is flawed.

If Patterson's logic is true, why do work-study students go to class? Why do student journalists, who are compensated for freelance articles, still go to class? There is no evidence to suggest that people who have jobs will stop going to class. Time commitments might restrain them academically, but that already happens for athletes.

4. "The football coach generates the vast majority of the revenue. You're compensating the coach based on the marketplace."

But Patterson is adamant that athletes who are worth more than others in the marketplace should not be compensated — or even be able to market themselves.

5. "So who is saying with any rationality or any fact that student athletes on a full ride aren't getting something? They're just flat-out wrong and they're liars. And they're doing the bidding of agents and trial lawyers. The longer everybody waddles around acting like it's not about agents and trial lawyers, the more silliness we're going to have out there."

First, let's acknowledge that nobody is saying athletes get nothing. They actually get a lot of cool things, but that doesn't matter within the context of the O'Bannon trial.

The second part of this statement is just an ad hominem attack on the people trying to take down the NCAA's system, even though they're doing the same thing as Patterson and his fellow administrators, who are trying to defend the organization. The NCAA spent $2,300-per-hour on one expert in the trial, and it recently shelled out big money to hire a lobbying firm.


The more Patterson goes on the offensive, the worse he ends up looking. However, he did get one thing right in his interview, when discussing the upcoming Jeffrey Kessler antitrust lawsuit that will attempt to end the NCAA's compensation rules:

"I've been on the other side of the table from Jeffrey Kessler for 30 years. I don't think administrators understand what they're getting into."

Even if the NCAA somehow pulls the upset and gets out of the O'Bannon suit unscathed, there are far more challenges ahead. With that in mind, it might be a good idea for Patterson to start putting together some more substantive arguments.

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