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Midweek Musing: athletes, social media, and the art of promotion

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TCU Twitter freaked out Wednesday morning when it was discovered that Zach Evans had scrubbed his Instagram off all mentions of TCU.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 West Virginia at TCU Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First things first, as someone who has spent the last decade working in high schools — a time frame that almost perfectly coincides with the rise of social media — I’ve learned to never take anything a teenager does with their social media accounts too seriously. So, when TCU Football’s star running back, five star recruit and leading rusher Zach Evans, scrubbed his IG of all things Horned Frogs, my immediate response was more “huh” than horror.

And it took just a few DMs and texts to confirm that Evans has indeed been practicing with the team with sources telling Drew Davison (and others, I can confirm) that everything is fine. For now.

This isn’t unfamiliar territory for TCU fans, who are probably on edge due to all the drama Jalen Reagor wrought with his social media platforms — something that has followed him to the League. But below .500 with a most recent home loss to a bad West Virginia team, coupled with Gary Patterson’s assertion that the SEC was coming calling for 25-30 of his players (which feels laugh out loud funny unless GP is keeping the best guys on the bench — can you name 20 guys you see as starters or backups on even a Mississippi State level team? I cannot.), Frog fans are understandably concerned when stuff like this happens.

To me, though, it points to a bigger problem: TCU Football, and Gary Patterson for that matter, want to complain about the lack of NIL deals and media attention for their players — but have no desire whatsoever to help make them accessible.

Few programs are as locked down as TCU’s; practices are famously closed to the media outside of a 15 minute period during fall camp, Patterson NEVER makes his assistants available (unless he’s about to encourage them to pursue opportunities elsewhere), and, just to really nail home the issue, here’s the list of Tuesday Press Conference athlete attendees:

Max Duggan, Ochaun Mathis, Tre’vius Hodges Tomlinson, Steve Avila, TJ Carter, Dylan Horton, Carter Ware (the only player made available ahead of the opener, which is laughable), Wes Harris, Brandon Coleman, Mike Onyemaobi, and Dominic DiNunzio.

What. The. Actual. Hell.

Postgame pressers have been a steady diet of Dee Winters and Max Duggan, with the two best players on the team — Quentin Johnston and Zach Evans — getting the mic just one time each.

CORRECTION: Quentin Johnston has spoken twice this season in post game press conferences. Additionally, both Onyemaobi and DiNunzio were requested last week. I don’t think it changes much, but want to be accurate.

So if Zach Evans wants to scrub his social media in the name of getting his name in the news?

I say good for him. Because I have seen more talk of Zach Evans on twitter today than I have all season.

I went over to the “other” TCU site last week after Matt Jennings wrote his “Gary must go” article on his Medium blog, with Patterson later referencing the piece in a long and rambling unprompted diatribe during a presser. There was a lot of “who is this guy anyway” and “Patterson doesn’t owe the media anything” and other immature insults that were probably considered funny three decades ago but now just sound especially immature and inappropriate.

I want to hone in on “Patterson doesn’t owe the media anything” though, because it is patently false. Well, maybe not false, but it is a way of thinking that does not carry water in the digital age.

If you want to be successful on the field, you have to be successful off of it. And that means getting your program — and your players — exposure.

When Caten Hyde was here, TCU Football far out-gained its stature on social, pulling numbers that rivaled any Blue Blood on social. Eichel Davis had the same impact on baseball. The current crop of TCU Social/Video/Graphic Designers are still incredibly talented and want to tell stories in creative ways (check out this piece on Luke Savage if you want proof that they’re awesome), but as TCU Football has struggled on the field, Patterson has given folks less access off of it. That’s a bad thing in the era of NIL and “college free agency”.

Players want to go where they are valued and where they can earn value. Careers are short and a myriad of things can happen to shorten them; you have to maximize your opportunities while they exist, and not hide your assets in the shadows. Look at Spencer Rattler: he earned six figures in deals this summer, lost his job at midseason, and his future is unknown.

But no matter what, HE MADE SIX FIGURES THIS SUMMER.

That’s life changing money for a lot of people.

The Gary Patterson that said “all the (top) four or five running backs, the (top) six running backs in the nation ... he was the No. 1 recruit in the nation, and nobody talks about Zach Evans. Just don’t talk about Zach Evans. We’ll just keep running him. They won’t pay any attention to him, and we’ll keep doing the things that we need to do” doesn’t jive with the Gary Patterson that rolled out a walk-on tight end that didn’t even play high school football for a press conference this week. The Gary Patterson that said “I hear, ‘Well, I don’t want to get dirty. It feels dirty. I don’t know the rules.’ Let me just say, you guys know me, I’m just going to tell the truth — the bottom line to it is I can lose 25-30 guys on scholarships by January. Players recruit players. When a kid calls, ‘Well, how are they taking care of you?’ If they don’t say they’re giving me this then the kid is not going to come. Players recruit players” doesn’t jive with the guy that treats his practices like deep state secrets and his media availabilities like a game of last man standing.

Maybe Gary Patterson doesn’t owe the media anything, and that’s fine. But then he, and the fans, can’t be upset when those 25-30 guys leave next semester, right?

College Football is a new game in 2021, and it’s only going to continue to evolve. Change or die, right? And after three sub-par seasons... well, which direction do you feel like TCU Football is going?