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Lopiano asks NCAA to make equity a priority

By Gary Brown

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.