Donna Lopiano, who was honored as the 10th recipient of the NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award at the Convention’s opening business session on Thursday, paused only briefly to bask in the spotlight before she continued the very advocacy for which she was being applauded.
“Even during celebratory occasions like this in which we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, it’s important to remind ourselves that there is so much more to do,” said the steadfast proponent of equality and fairness in sports who was honored for her roles as an educator, former coach, longtime director of women’s athletics at the University of Texas at Austin and former chief executive officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
The Ford Award, named in recognition of Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States and a member of two national-championship football teams at Michigan, honors an individual who has provided significant leadership as an advocate for intercollegiate athletics over the course of his or her career.
Lopiano, who has devoted more than four decades advocating for equality in college athletics, particularly on behalf of increased opportunities for women, thanked colleagues who helped blaze the trail along the way.
“Frankly, when accepting the acknowledgement for work accomplished, we all know that no one achieves success in our business without significant collaboration with others,” Lopiano said. “I thank all of you who participated with me, especially those of you who have gray hair … or maybe even no hair.”
She urged the Association to keep up the good fight on fairness for all student-athletes – male and female – including those with disabilities. While Lopiano acknowledged a different NCAA governance from the days of “one school-one vote,” she said decision-makers today would be wise to listen to all constituents to gain the advantage that a diverse governing body affords.
“We have been assigned some of the most difficult responsibilities of any group of educators in America – preserving the integrity of highly competitive educational sport in the face of tremendous commercial pressures, and protecting the health and academic well-being of student-athletes, all under the microscope of media and alumni,” Lopiano said. “It’s not easy, and it will continue to be not easy … It’s easy to get off track if you’re not constantly challenged by different views.”
As a student-athlete at Southern Connecticut State, Lopiano played softball, basketball, volleyball and field hockey and participated in 26 national championships. She graduated in 1968 and went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate from Southern California.
Lopiano made her mark in athletics administration as the first athletics director for women’s sports at Texas, a post she held from 1975 through 1992. She left Texas for the top post at the Women’s Sports Foundation, which she held until 2007. She currently runs a consulting firm called Sports Management Resources.
“A good measure of moral certainty is our ability to answer our loudest critics and work diligently to always deliver fair process,” Lopiano told the Convention audience.
Readers please note: While the NCAA.org headline was “Lopiano calls for equity,” her message was a bit broader than that.
Here’s a transcript of her remarks:
President Emmert, thank you for this honor.
While gratefully accepting acknowledgement for work accomplished, we all know that no one achieves success in our business without significant collaboration with others. I thank all of you who participated with me – especially those of you who now have gray hair or no hair. Please know how much I have appreciated our conversations, committee work and debates – many of which were contentious but always educational and, in the end, always fun and respectful.
We are a relatively small club – athletics administrators, presidents and faculty athletics representatives – engaged in grand adventure -the governance and administration of intercollegiate athletics. We have been assigned some of the most difficult responsibilities of any group of educators in our nation:
- preserving the integrity of highly competitive educational sport in the face of tremendous commercial pressures
- protecting the health and academic well-being of student-athletes all under the microscope of media and alumni. It is not easy and it will continue to be “not easy”.
Over the last four decades, our governance systems have become increasingly fragmented by competitive division, by weighted voting, by structural changes that increase the power of smaller decision-making groups and by executive powers that have moved the Association from governance by a large and diverse deliberative assembly to decision-making by smaller more homogeneous groups. These changes are neither right nor wrong…in many respects our systems are now more efficient…but these changes should also ring a bell of caution.
It is easier to get off-track if we are not constantly challenged by different views…especially the collective conscience of the majority but also the views of smaller groups of unfairly constructed minorities. So, as we continue down these more insulated paths, we must take care to encourage more debate in diverse forums, to engineer certification and performance assessment processes that involve educators who are not like us and to maintain a passionate dedication to fair treatment and transparent governance processes no matter what the crisis. A good measure of moral certainty is our ability to answer our loudest critics and to work diligently to always deliver fair process.
We are also unique in that many of us find ourselves as caretakers and managers of university assets that have significant revenue-generating potential. Over the last four decades the value of these assets, especially among Division I institutions, has increased exponentially and with the prospect of these riches, the temptation to place the importance of revenue production over our moral responsibilities is constant. And, as these riches become consolidated among a fewer number of institutions, we must ask ourselves whether we are doing the most we can for the greatest number of student-athletes or are we creating a specially treated class of coaches and student-athletes because we haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the guilt of these significant riches.
Last, over the past four decades too, while opportunities for female students to participate in athletics have increased exponentially, there are still significant discriminatory gaps in opportunity and treatment. We have virtually ignored the needs of male and female athletes with disabilities. It has also been well documented that the participation of women and men and women of color remains embarrassingly low at the institutional and association levels with regard to access to higher levels of employment and decision-making power.
So, even during celebratory moments like these during which we pat ourselves on the backs for a job well done…it is important to remind ourselves of these things - that there is so much more to do and we are capable of solving these issues in a manner that contributes to both the institutional good and the greater good.
Again, thank you for the privilege of working with all of you and allowing me to be a part of these challenges.