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Texas President Gregory L. Fenves announces the rules for carrying concealed handguns on campus during a news conference in the Main Building on Wednesday February 17, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Football

Texas president ‘cannot comprehend’ paying UT athletes

During interview for lawsuit against NCAA, Gregory L. Fenves defends amateur model

Posted April 19th, 2017

His football program is installing new football lockers that cost an eye-popping $10,500 each, but Texas President Gregory L. Fenves “cannot comprehend” paying UT athletes.

That’s the main takeaway from an interview Fenves gave for a class-action antitrust lawsuit filed against the NCAA. The lawsuit seeks to challenge what schools can give to athletes playing football and men’s and women’s basketball.

The notes from the interview, first discovered by USA Today, were taken during an interview on Feb. 22 and attached to a legal filing. Fenves was one of five current or former university administrators interviewed by Kenneth Elzinga, an expert for the defense.

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Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart and former Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke were also interviewed. A UT spokesman declined to comment on Wednesday.

Fenves told Elzinga that he “cannot comprehend how athletics could be a part of university life” if athletes were paid like professionals. The UT president related an anecdote of going to a men’s basketball game this season and watching freshman Jarrett Allen, although his name is mentioned specifically.

Allen, described in general terms, was a “a very good basketball player, but he also makes mistakes ‘like a freshman,’” according to Elzinga’s notes. If Allen was paid like a professional, fans may watch him make “stupid turnovers” and may choose not to come watch him play.

Allen has announced he is turning professional and will enter this summer’s NBA draft.

Fenves said during the interview that “students go to games to watch their fellow students compete, and that they would not be as interested in attending if the players were professional.”

Alumni return to experience “multi-generational camaraderie,” Fenves said. Those fans would not be as supportive of the school after graduation if the team was “just another professional sports team,” he said, according to the notes.

The UT athletic department is self sustaining and receives no state tax dollars for its annual operations. The majority of funds are generated through private donations, TV contracts, ticket sales and advertising.

According to the most recent audited data, the UT athletic department generated almost $188 million in revenue and had $181.5 million in expenses. That included a $10-million transfer back to the institution for academic purposes.

When it comes to UT’s place on the financial landscape, the Longhorns are the kings of cash. However, the vast majority of athletic departments are financially underwater and need subsidies to balance their budgets.

During the interview, Fenves also touched on other UT-specific topics and stressed how intercollegiate athletics benefits the student body.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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