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UT Austin boosters are putting up $10M to entice athletes to become Longhorns

a close-up of a UT Longhorn on a swim cap
Michael Minasi

A new fund called the Clark Field Collective is aimed at getting top student athletes to choose the University of Texas at Austin.

The collective is supported by UT donors and former athletes. Axios reporter Asher Price told Texas Standard some of the details are scarce but the money “will go to athletes if they do various kinds of marketing deals.”

UT is not the only top athletic school with this kind of support. Hear more about the changing landscape of college athletic recruitment in the audio player above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: I thought that scholarships were the big attraction for superstar athletes. Not good enough anymore, huh?

Asher Price: No, no, no. That's old hat. The landscape here has changed and players, finally, can be paid for their name, image and likeness. That is, if they want to endorse a product, appear in some kind of sponsorship deal, they can now be paid to do that. That's a new attraction to going to school.

So how does this UT fund fit into this rule change?

Basically, this money that's been pledged that will ultimately go to athletes, or much of it will go to athletes, if they do various kinds of marketing deals. The Clark Field Collective, which is the name of the new fund, is a little bit light on the details, but they've assembled a crew of kind of well-known University of Texas alums, former student athletes like TJ Ford, the famed basketball player, to help advise current students about marketing deals that they could do.

I should say, by the way, this is, officially speaking, unaffiliated with the university. The university itself can't get its fingers too mucky with the dollars and cents here.

UT Austin has one of the, if not the, wealthiest alumni bases in the country, right?

Yeah, I mean, this is just another way that the alumni base of UT, in a way, is competing with the alumni base of Stanford or Texas A&M or Notre Dame. I mean, yes, UT — there's a lot of oil money in Texas, there's a lot of car dealership money, there's a lot of different kinds of business money and there are these big-dollar, cigar-smoking donors to the university who want their football team, chiefly, to best the football teams of other schools. And so they're willing to pay money or ante up money to kind of prepare the field for athletes to benefit.

What about those other big schools?

Texas A&M has its own version of this. And private schools like SMU are also trying to figure out ways to — or at least the donors, the boosters at these schools — are trying to figure out ways to pool money together so that they can assure athletes who might come to their schools that they can get $10,000 if they appear on a billboard for a car dealership.

I can remember when it would be scandalous if an alum purchased a car for an athlete. Is that still off-limits? Can alumni just pay people to come to a particular school?

No, they can't. And, actually, there's a distinction, I should say, between inducements and attractions. These players can't be induced to come to UT on the promise that they'll be paid money. But, for example, there's a booster group called Surly Horns, and they have a fund called the Burnt Ends Fund. It pays all the tight ends on the UT roster $10,000 each and, in exchange, they have to show up at certain dinners, they have to do some kind of media activities where they appear on podcasts and YouTube and such to promote this event.

But you can't just be given money with no services that are attached to it. The student athlete has to perform some kind of service for the money.

But it sounds to me like the shape of things to come is more active alumni involvement in trying to win over some of the best athletes in the country to come to UT and other schools.

Oh, exactly. And I should say, there are certain other things that are out of bounds, the athletes can't market any sexually oriented businesses, they can't promote casinos or gambling, they can't promote anabolic steroids, they can't be in any marketing deals for guns that can't be legally purchased. There are some contours to what these deals look like.

But, yes, there's going to be tens of millions of dollars now floating around in ways that would have been unthinkable just a year ago for athletes to earn money based on their name and image.

Are there critics out there saying, wait a minute, this is not the spirit of college athletics?

There are always critics out there, right? But I think that there's been a kind of groundswell in American society. And this has played out in the courts and now the state legislatures — that athletes are entitled to, just like the rest of us, to make money off their likeness.

You have these universities making hundreds of millions of dollars in television contracts, the television networks making billions of dollars in advertising money off airing the UT football game every Saturday. And, essentially, that money has not trickled down to the players. So now there's some avenue for them, finally, to make some money here.

From Texas Standard

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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