AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Texas athletic director Steve Patterson has his eye on China and the Middle East as vast new markets to expand the Longhorns’ burnt orange brand around the globe.
The leader of the nation’s wealthiest athletic program also insisted Tuesday that university athletes are students, not employees. If they want to be treated as workers, they should turn pro, Patterson said.
“Professional athletics is something completely different,” Patterson said, addressing last week’s ruling by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that Northwestern’s football team can be considered employees and have the right to form what would be the nation’s first union for college athletes.
“If you’re a football player coming out of high school that decides you want to go to the pros, go take up your issue with (NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell, the owners and the union,” Patterson said. “That’s your place to go, if you want to go play professional football, if you want to go be an employee.
“If you want to go play professional basketball, go the D-league, knock yourself out, then in the draft to the NBA,” Patterson said. “That’s your place if you want to be an employee, if you want to be a professional. This is not your place,” Patterson said, tapping his finger on his desk.
“This is a free country. You can make that choice all day long. Knock yourself out,” he said. “This is student athletics.”
Patterson clearly has had an eye on making money for the program he took over in November 2013 and sees huge potential in new markets.
Texas is already in agreement with the Pac-12 to play Washington in men’s basketball in China in November 2015. Patterson acknowledged Tuesday he’s also had some early discussions playing sports in Dubai. He didn’t say which sport or when, but noted that part of the world has many Texas alumni working in the oil and gas industries.
Patterson called athletics the “front porch” for the university and its ability to draw students, faculty and donors from around the world.
But he showed no interest in resuming a rivalry with a school just 100 miles away: Texas A&M. The Longhorns-Aggies rivalry that started in 1894 ended in 2011 when the Aggies left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.
“There’s a lot of great tradition in the rivalry. At some point in the future, does it make some business sense, some branding sense to play again? I don’t know. It’s not at the top of my list,” Patterson said.
“I’m more focused in how do we grow the footprint of the department beyond what separates College Station and Austin,” he said.
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