Just before the Longhorns football team was set to face Alabama in Tuscaloosa in September, University of Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte got a phone call. Matthew McConaughey was on the line. The Hollywood actor and diehard Longhorn fan needed some help–an unusual amount of air traffic made the Tuscaloosa National Airport too congested to land. gocengqq

Del Conte buzzed University of Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne, who assured him if McConaughey could land in Birmingham, he’d send local police there to escort him to the big-time matchup.

“It wasn’t a police escort,” Del Conte said Saturday during Day 1 of the SXSW Sports Track. “He was in the backseat of a cop car flying down the freeway … When [the SEC] says ‘It Just Means More’, that’s what it is. It’s about the passion of the fan bases.” gocengqq

Excellence is Good: Greg Sankey shared his faux pas moment from his first press conference as SEC commissioner during the ‘Powering a New Era in College Sports’ panel. Sankey, who is adding the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma to the conference next year, anticipated being asked about expansion during the 2015 presser. Sankey was prepared to say that expansion wasn’t a priority, but that “excellence is attractive.” Worried the word attractive would be taken out of context by the media, he did a last-minute pivot at the podium. Instead, he came up with a safer yet awkward substitute: “Excellence is a good thing.”

Del Conte chimed in on the same panel about the onset of NIL. “Name, image and likeness is exciting and awesome for the kids,” he said. “But what happens is when one state has different [NIL-related laws] than the other, that [brings] chaos that affects recruitment and everyone you know. If we had some type of a national law, it would get rid of the headache and just let them play sports.” 

Injury or Breakup?: A panel hosted by UT-Austin focused on how college and pro sports teams utilize player training data and mental health checks to optimize performance. Sam Contorno, the associate director of applied sports science for the Longhorns football team, said the athletic department’s performance teams (sports science, sports research, medicine, training, strength and conditioning) meet as a group daily to make sure they are approaching wellness holistically. As an example, if a player’s performance on a given day is lacking, it could have a physical cause (maybe a minor injury) or an emotional one (maybe his girlfriend just broke up with him). “You can amazingly see that in their data,” she said.  “And sometimes they just need someone to ask the question for them, and say ‘Hey, how are you feeling today?’”

Too Much Information: On that same panel, Phil Cullen, senior director of basketball operations for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs,  discussed a challenge he sees at the pro level. NBA teams are only allowed access to data that the players allow them to see–a benefit of the players being employees with a collectively bargained labor accord–but Cullen said the Spurs are sometimes deliberately shielding data from some of their players. “Here’s an example: They had a bad night’s sleep,” he said. “They might see that and think, ‘Man I’m not going to have it tonight.’ So our staff is very careful in curating what they need to know.”  gocengqq


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