Former Texas Women’s Athletics Director Donna Lopiano will be one of six inaugural recipients of “The Champions: Pioneers and Innovators in Sports Business,” at the IMG World Congress of Sports on March 17 in Los Angeles. The award recognizes the architects and builders in various segments of sports and were selected for their accomplished body of work throughout their careers.
Lopiano is a member of the National Sports Hall of Fame and the National Softball Hall of Fame. For 17 years she served as director of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women at the University of Texas, during which time she constructed what many believe to be the premiere women’s athletics program in the country. Lopiano developed her department from a $57,000 budget in 1975 to nearly $3 million in 1987, while all eight sports she supervised continued to hold national rankings.
The University of Texas enjoyed perhaps its best overall season in 1986-1987 when it was named top women’s program in the country for the second consecutive year by Knoxville Journal’s all-sports poll. All totaled, Lopiano’s department boasted 12 national championships in five different sports, 30 Southwest Conference championships since 1982 and 159 All-American athletes — dozens among them Olympians and world champions.
Lopiano’s success extended to the classroom. From 1975 until her departure, 95 percent of UT’s female student-athletes who completed four years of athletic eligibility received a baccalaureate degree.
Lopiano recently spoke with TexasSports.com about her time at The University of Texas and her ongoing pursuit for gender equality in sports.
What was the defining moment that first inspired you to actively work to bring gender equality in sports? When I was told that I couldn’t play Little League baseball after being drafted No. 1. That was a tipping point.
How did the idea for Sports Management Resources come to you? How did it come to being? At the age of 61, after 15 years as CEO of Women’s Sports Foundation, I decided I had one more career in me. I have never started my own business and so I did.
For readers not familiar with Sports Management Resources, what is this group’s primary goal? I gathered three colleagues I respected the most — all former athletics directors with advanced degrees, all sports management professors, all highly respected professionals and we began this education sport consulting business. Our goal is to help schools, colleges, universities and sports organizations confront managerial challenges — everything from academic integrity to diversity, gender equity, growing financial resources and compliance.
What else have you been doing since leaving the Women’s Sports Foundation? Consulting in USA and the Middle East and writing a book on athletics policies.
Is there anything in particular that you miss about The University of Texas and Austin? Always the people — great student-athletes, coaches, administrators — and the UT Austin atmosphere of pursuing greatness.
How did you adapt to being a “Yankee” in Austin? Help from my friends, like Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Jody Conradt, all who took pity on this “rough” Yankee and taught me how to act right — meaning not like a New Yorker.
Any little known facts, funny stories, etc. from your time at The University of Texas? Too many that shall remain little known.
What progress do you still hope to see, or are working toward, for women in sports, and the world of athletics in general?Only half-way there — girls are still getting 1.3 million less opportunities than boys in high school sports. Women make up only 43 percent of college athletes, even though females are 56 percent of the student body. They (female student-athletes) are still far behind in scholarship and operating support, provision of fairly paid coaches, etc.
This year’s group of honorees is an incredible list of individuals in athletics. Any of your fellow honorees that you admire in particular? Are there any contributions made by your fellow honorees that really stand out to you? There isn’t one nominee that I can single out as being more deserving than another — a tribute to how difficult it is to select champions from among champions.
What sort of work are you doing in the Middle East. Also, women’s rights in the Middle East have become a prominent topic of discussion for many in the Western world, can you share any insight on what you have seen personally? Helping to improve ASPIRE (Academy for Sports Excellence), an international sports school for 7th to 12th grade boys; and to open the school to girls, tentative date Sept. 2011, when it will probably be the only girls sports school in the Middle East. It is fascinating and a very rewarding exercise to develop a sports program for Muslim females that is consistent with their religion and culture. It’s the adventure of my life.