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Hartzell, Del Conte mum on SEC info, quick to offer praise to surging athletic program

Joe Cook06/03/22
Article written by:On3 imageJoe Cook

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Chris Del Conte (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

IRVING, Texas — The first in-person interaction on Thursday between University of Texas president Jay Hartzell and athletic director Chris Del Conte after the Longhorn men’s golf team won its fourth national title on Wednesday was a big hug in the foyer of the Four Seasons in Las Colinas. Del Conte watched the event live in Scottsdale, Ariz. and later told gathered media it was a nerve-wracking event. Hartzell was at an alumni function celebrating with other burnt orange faithful.

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The two expressed their jubilance in the presence of other Big 12 university presidents and athletic directors as they lined up for food in between Big 12 spring meetings. These meetings included administrators from UCF, Houston, BYU, and Cincinnati, four teams making the leap from the Group of Five to the Big 12 in the coming years. Texas and Oklahoma, two teams set to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, were also included at these meetings.

Both Del Conte and Hartzell emphasized there were no discussions about timelines for departures for UT and OU during meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. The talks in the first two days of the three-day event were about future branding for the conference with some conversations about replacing outgoing commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

SEC talk? Well, that wasn’t something on Hartzell’s mind.

“It’s sort of like sitting outside of the room of the wife you told you’re not happy with and talking about your next date,” Hartzell said about answering SEC-related questions at a Big 12 event.

When asked, both Hartzell and Del Conte remained publicly committed to the July 1, 2025 timeline for joining the SEC. Upon being pushed on if there was a way to work things out before the 2025 date, Hartzell quickly cut off the question: “I just can’t go there. We’re acting, planning, behaving on ’25 and we’ll see what happens.”

Even so, Hartzell mentioned he and his Oklahoma counterpart, Joe Harroz, have been in contact with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey since the decision to move was publicly announced almost a year ago. Hartzell mentioned those conversations have been more conceptual and high-level at this juncture. Granular things like scheduling, a hot topic at SEC meetings this week, have not come up quite yet.

Del Conte fielded a similar question about if there was a way to head east earlier than three years from now. He offered a confusing collection of words before pivoting to discussion about the athletic department he oversees.

“We just planned what we’re planning on,” Del Conte said. “There’s always conversations that are above my paygrade, but we’re planning what we’re planning on moving forward (and) with our coaches, keeping everything focused.”

“As much as I would like to know what’s going on today and tomorrow, we’ve got softball, got baseball, golf, tennis, track and field. We’re on the cusp of having a pretty good year again and taking that big round trophy and keeping that in Austin another year. We have a chance, but we have a lot of work to do.”

The “big round trophy” is the Division I LEARFIELD Directors’ Cup, given annually to the most successful overall athletic program. Texas took home the award following the 2020-21 athletic season, dethroning a Stanford Cardinal program that had won the honor every year it has been awarded since 1994-95. Texas had finished second three times and in the top five a total of eight times before taking home the trophy that sits currently in the Frank Denius Family UT Athletics Hall of Fame in the north end zone of Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium.

For Hartzell, who has to look at things with a university-wide view, winning the Directors’ Cup in 2021 and being in position to repeat in 2022 speaks to the momentum the entire University of Texas has at the current time.

“I feel like morale is really good,” Hartzell said of the athletic department. “We feel this campus-wide. If you’re in Texas right now, and Austin in particular, times are rolling. There is a lot of wind at our backs. The big thing I’ve been working to push as president is we’re at a moment and we’ve got to seize it, grab it, and really make a push. Athletics is part of that. I think you can sense it.”

“The event I was at last night watching the golf celebration, you felt it and I think it rolls. I think the student-athletes feel it. The faculty and staff feel it. The alumni feel it. It’s contagious. You can poke at the things that aren’t quite where we want them yet, on the other hand it’s hard to say we’ve had a tough couple of years athletically.”

Evidence of that momentum can be seen in the form of season ticket sales. Del Conte said Thursday he anticipates the Moody Center being completely sold out on a season ticket basis for men’s basketball. For football, he believes season tickets will be sold out in just over a week.

“Having great games at home matter,” Del Conte said. “Losing A&M every other year hurt us just because our best game is on a neutral site. Your season ticket package, you build it around not a neutral site game. It’s good having Alabama at home. We had USC, LSU.”

The neutral site game is the Red River Shootout in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Del Conte said Thursday that he and the Oklahoma athletic department have spoken with the City of Dallas about extending the contract to play the rivalry game at the State Fair past 2025.

“That game has been spectacular,” Del Conte said. “I can’t imagine that game not being in the Cotton Bowl. We’ve got to make some improvements to the stadium. We’ve got to do some things there a little bit differently, but it’s phenomenal. The State Fair, the pomp and circumstance, it’s unbelievable.”

Some of the improvements? Improved ingress and egress, better concessions, water stations, and updating the press box that oversees the 92-year-old stadium last renovated in 2008.

It’s the next thing on what seems like an endless to-do list for the Texas athletic department. After making it through the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic without taking any money from the institution, waters have settled for the UT athletic department.

With the SEC in the future, and with athletic success in the present, Del Conte is a confident man. He has good reason to be after seven NCAA titles and double-digit conference titles over the past two seasons.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Del Conte said.