Article by Kyle Parks, CPA, ML&R’s Leading Partner

Over the course of the last five-plus years, the University of Texas at Austin has witnessed a remarkable series of advancements and achievements. These significant milestones include the largest facility renovation in the history of college athletics, a pending move to the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and the impressive accolade of winning two consecutive LEARFIELD Directors’ Cup titles. These sweeping improvements have come under the visionary leadership of Chris Del Conte, who assumed the role of Vice President and Athletics Director at the University of Texas in December 2017. 

Maxwell Locke & Ritter has a long-standing relationship with Texas Athletics, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Chris during his tenure at UT. I first met Chris when he moved to Austin from Fort Worth. He graciously accepted an invitation to speak to our partner group and kept us entertained with his stories for over an hour. 

As the new athletic season at UT approaches, I had the opportunity to sit down with him to delve into his visionary plans for the future of the athletic department at one of the nation’s premier universities. 

Parks:  First and foremost, thank you for joining me today despite your busy schedule. Over the past five-plus years, you’ve achieved remarkable success during your tenure at UT. Will you elaborate on these initiatives and share your insights on how they have contributed to creating a better environment for the campus as a whole? 

Del Conte:  We have somewhat of a track record of upgrading facilities at the various schools I’ve been a part of. Upon arriving here at the University of Texas, I noticed that a lot of the guts and amenities in our football stadium were in the same condition as when Darrell Royal was leading our program in 1960s and 70s, with only a few renovations done during John Mackovic’s and Mack Brown’s time. It was evident that it was time to modernize the facility while making major enhancements with the South End Zone project to meet the demands of today’s game and student-athletes. I liken it to being the equivalent of teaching chemistry in 2023 with Bunsen burners from 1960.

However, our vision extended beyond football. We recognized the importance of enhancing facilities for all our sports teams, not only as a gesture of gratitude to the players, coaches, and fans but also to show them how crucial their role is in the overall success of the athletic department.

Nowadays, if there isn’t a crane up on the 40 acres, I’m in trouble. The most current project is the addition of a recruiting facility to the south end zone. Following that, we have plans to commence work on a new football practice facility near the Moody Center, with groundbreaking expected in the summer of 2024.  

Parks:  As one of the top athletic departments in the country with respect to revenue and budget, could you give us some insight into how your finance & accounting team operates to maintain your level of success? 

Del Conte:  We are a big believer in a “zero-based budget” and have implemented this approach at UT. My introduction to this method occurred during my tenure in Arizona, where I served as an Assistant Athletic Director. One day out of the blue, my boss approached me and asked me to take on the responsibility of managing the department’s budget. Without hesitation, I replied “yes, sir” and hung up the phone. However, little did he know that on my way home that evening, I stopped by Borders Bookstore to buy a copy of “Zero-Based Budgeting for Dummies.”

Each Spring we ask all coaches to submit their budgets for the upcoming year, followed by monthly meetings to ensure accountability. At this point in my career, I’ve honed the ability to identify areas where a team’s budget might be padded and collaborate with the coaches to eliminate some of the unnecessary expenses, but not all of them.

In my daily work, I maintain close interaction with our finance team, especially with Rob Novak, who heads the team. His expertise in handling numbers and spreadsheets is truly remarkable – he’s like a human computer, and I’m always impressed with what he can achieve.

Overall, we have a great team of 350 people in the Athletic Department, which makes coming to work enjoyable every day. 

Parks:  From the day you arrived in Austin, you have been very generous with your time to many of the charitable organizations around town. Why is this important to you? 

Del Conte: I consider the athletics department to be the doorstep for the university, which is responsible for inviting people in. We focus on being intentional about investing in the community, as the community’s investment in us is crucial to our success. I preach this message department wide, encouraging coaches, staff, and athletes alike to actively participate in community organizations whenever possible. Their involvement in the community is paramount to our collective achievements.

ParksWith all the buzz around the new NIL rules and transfer portal, how is Texas helping their student-athletes manage their finances and decision-making processes? 

Del Conte:  We have established the 4Ever Texas program, which all our athletes are required to participate in, not just those with NIL deals. The program utilizes resources from the McCombs School of Business, The University of Texas Law School, and the University Federal Credit Union to help our athletes gain essential financial literacy skills, tracking their income and expenses smartly, preparing for potential pitfalls, and learning more about important considerations while engaging in contractual agreements.  

I try and meet with every recruit we bring on campus, and believe this program underscores our commitment to the holistic development of our student-athletes beyond the playing field.

Parks: Outside of your extensive responsibilities at the University and within the community, what do you like to do for fun?  

Del Conte:  I am an avid reader with a genuine appreciation for a diverse range of books. My literary tastes run the gamut from fiction to nonfiction, history books to murder mysteries, and beyond. Whenever I come across a particularly captivating read, I take pleasure in sharing my recommendations with all the coaches. Every now and then, I will even surprise them with a pop quiz to see if they are actually reading any of my suggestions.

Thank you for such an insightful conversation, Chris. We believe these types of investments can have a profound impact on the campus community, faculty, and students alike and are excited to watch you continue to steer the Texas Athletics towards even greater heights. Hook ‘em!