TCU athletic director discusses state of college athletics at national Big 12 event

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Separating the NCAA and college sports isn’t possible, despite the new direction the institutions are headed.

That was the opinion of Chris Del Conte, TCU’s director of intercollegiate athletics, who was one of six panelists in a special Big 12 forum in Washington D.C. on Tuesday. C-SPAN broadcasted the event live.

“The NCAA is a necessity,” Del Conte said. “The institutions make up the NCAA. The NCAA is us.”

The discussion was part of the Big 12’s “The State of College Athletics Forum,” hosted by the National Press Club.

In addition to Del Conte, the panelists, who were asked to talk about the financial side of college athletics, included host Jimmy Roberts, NBC Sports reporter; Steve Berkowitz, sports reporter and editor for USA Today; Steve Patterson, University of Texas at Austin athletic director and Pete Thamel, senior writer for Sports Illustrated.

The panelists discussed topics ranging from the financial status of the “Power 5” conferences to the legal problems surrounding decisions about college sports.

“We are running a business based on people’s passions,” Del Conte said. “Commerce has changed drastically and how we fund athletics.”

Despite the “necessity” of the relationship between athletics programs and the NCAA, Del Conte acknowledged the divide between college football and the NCAA.

“College football’s not part of the NCAA,” Del Conte said. “What’s part of the NCAA is eligibility and compliance.”

The panel faced many questions about how college athletics programs handle revenue, especially in relation to athletic scholarships.

“Outside of the G.I. Bill, college athletics provide the largest amount of need-based aid in the United States,” Del Conte said.

Del Conte said the Big 12 is where TCU has wanted to be for a long time, but the “turbulence” that came with the move was more daunting than he expected.

Del Conte said it is important that students are given a voice in debates about college sports. The media has also hindered athletic programs’ abilities to speak out, especially when college sports make up about 90 percent of media but only about 5 percent of university budgets, he said.

“Our voice is being lost by trial lawyers, our voice is being lost in media,” Del Conte said.