MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Steve Patterson wants to hook ‘em in Dubai and strut Bevo through Beijing. Such is the world-empire construct he used to wow his future University of Texas bosses during November’s job interview, around the same time Oliver Luck was probably thinking: “I thought we were here to talk about Mack Brown?”
Five months into his new gig, Patterson is rolling as the consummate CEO—with the “C” unapologetically representing cash, and that’s not a knock on the individual. He’s merely following the long-trending evolution of the athletics director’s position: away from graying coaches who slide into glad-handing retirement, toward corporate chiefs who strip-mine revenue from across the landscape.
Yet as Patterson’s comments on Tuesday reminded us, that job description comes at the sacrifice of traditions that helped give college athletics its branding in the first place.
Asked about UT reigniting its football rivalry with Texas A&M, Patterson issued another brushoff to a game that should be an yearly event: “It’s not at the top of my list. I’m really more focused on how we grow the footprint of the department.”
Geez. Won’t be long until UT changes the fight song from “Goodbye to A&M” to “Grow the footprint!”
It’s a footprint that could soon stretch to Mexico City—where Patterson wants to play a nonconference football game—or even to the Middle East, where a Texas game would be a tricked-up spectacle. Maybe UT wants to be the first NCAA school to slap a logo on a keffiyeh.
Is this global gumption run amok? Did Texas hire Steve Patterson or Steve Jobs? The new AD already booked the basketball team for a 2015 game in China against Washington. (Then again, last month’s basketball game against West Virginia on the Longhorn Network might as well have been played in China, because it sure as hell wasn’t seen by anyone here in the good ol’ USA.)
Patterson’s scheme to conquer other continents would seem less misguided if Texas wasn’t ignoring the historic rival in its own backyard—the one it faced in football for 113 consecutive years until conference-swapping stalled the series in 2012. Sure, realignment created scheduling difficulties, but at last check, you didn’t have to wade through customs to enter College Station.
To be fair, A&M leaders, emboldened by their richer SEC environs, also seem too proud to make the first overture. This standstill deprives current and future generations of a game that resonated geographically, culturally and fiscally. It generated memories and fortified the brands of both schools long before “brand-management” was a thing. Given the inflamed interactions that continue to bridge both fan bases, Texas vs. Texas A&M should occur every season preferably, and on a two-year on-and-off rotation at the minimum. Surely Patterson could make that game happen in between video-conferencing with event planners from the United Arab Emirates.
No less a shame was the cessation of series like Nebraska-Oklahoma, Notre Dame-Michigan and, our local one that got away, West Virginia-Pitt. Pining for their return is undeniably sentimental, the kind of decades-in-the-making sentimental attachment most companies would cherish. Athletic departments, which are companies by any reasonable definition, are squandering capital—not to mention disserving fans—by allowing such rivalries to wither.
For now, Longhorns-Aggies is indefinitely suspended. And Patterson, for all the business acumen and managerial ambition that buoyed him to the nation’s plum AD job, sounded completely disconnected when pondering a restart with A&M:
“At some point in time, does it make some business sense, some branding sense, to play again?”
Too bad he overlooked the more obvious item it makes: common sense.