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Texas AD Chris Del Conte declines to comment on whether Shaka Smart will return next season

The athletics director called it “ludicrous” to have that discussion before the season ends.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Even before the Texas Longhorns were effectively eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention with Thursday’s loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament, the major topic of conversation for weeks, if not months, has been the job status of fourth-year head coach Shaka Smart.

Unsurprisingly, athletics director Chris Del Conte was asked about whether Smart will return for the 2019-22. Unsurprisingly, Del Conte declined comment.

“I won’t comment on Shaka,” Del Conte said. “It’s right in the middle of the season. That’s crazy. … That’s ludicrous talk when we start talking about that stuff in the middle of the season.”

If Del Conte was absolutely planning on Smart returning next season, however, it seems likely that he would have expressed his confidence in Smart, so it seems notable that he opted not to comment.

Smart has a 66-66 record in his four seasons and is set to miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time. In the two tournament appearances Smart has made at Texas, he is yet to record a victory.

What looms large above the whole discussion is Smart’s guaranteed contract, which was extended following his first season and runs through 2023 with a $12.9 million buyout.

For an athletics department that is undergoing several major projects, including the south end zone project at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, it’s a significant amount of money. When viewed through the lens of the basketball program specifically, it’s an even larger amount of money — during the 2015-16 season, the basketball program had profits of $8.4 million, so paying the full buyout to Smart would consume a year and a half of profits.

And that’s before adding in the potential cost of buying out a new coach who would likely demand more money than Smart was paid by Texas.

So those are the considerations that Del Conte will have to weigh in the coming days.