Dr. Ben Carrington is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a leading expert on the politics of sports. He is a member of the faculty-athletic department liaison committee for men’s athletics, called the Men’s Athletics Council. Before moving to Austin 11 years ago to teach at UT, Ben played semi-professional soccer in England. Here we discuss the recent removal of UT Athletic Director Steve Patterson and what it could mean for the future of the uneasy relationship between athletics and academics at the school. You can follow him @BenHCarrington.
Dave Zirin: Steve Patterson, a person who was once described to me by some of his detractors as invincible, is now gone. How did this happen?
Dr. Ben Carrington: We’re not too sure, it’s actually taken some of us by surprise. I think we have to go back to when he was appointed 22 months ago. When you have that tumultuous time at UT when Deloss Dodds was… well, with all these things, people are fired, but it’s always by mutual agreement. That’s the term that they use, which basically means, before we fire you, you’re going to resign, and we’ll give you a bit of money to go quietly.
So the big change, actually, was when DeLoss Dodds left after 32 years. The key thing that is significant as to how this has happened was that Patterson challenged the “old boys’ network” in Texas sports. When they decided then to make the next change, which was to fire—or to mutually agree that Mack Brown should step down, Patterson did it his way. He didn’t go to people like Red McCombs, who’s a very big figure in Texas sports and Texas politics. The University of Texas–Austin’s Business School is named after Red McCombs. One end of the [football] stadium is named after Red McCombs. Red McCombs normally gets to decide who’s going to be the head coach, and Patterson basically told him where to go.
So right from the beginning Patterson decided that he wanted to establish himself as separate from that old network, and those people weren’t happy. And what’s fascinating is that those people are now back. Yesterday’s press conference, when the new interim A.D. [Athletic Director] Mike Perrin was introduced, who was there? DeLoss Dodds. Who was the person that spoke to [UT President] Greg Fenves last week to let him know about the concerns of the coaches? Mack Brown. Mack is back. DeLoss is back. Behind the scenes, DeLoss and Perrin are long-term friends. Their friendship goes back 30, 40 years or so. So part of the story, really, as much as we want to say it was about coaches being unhappy and faculty being unhappy, it was the old power of the old boys’ network of Texas that Steve Patterson thought that he could usurp. And they’ve come back and told him, “No, we still run things in Texas.”
Why are so many progressive academic community glad that Patterson’s gone? I know it’s not because they love the old boys’ network.