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Women’s basketball leader draws on her college experience to help today’s athletes

By Lynn Holzman as told to Brian Burnsed

I grew up in Ohio, and I wanted to go away to school. I thought basketball was a good avenue for me to do that. I was recruited for three sports, but I went with basketball because of the opportunity to get a full scholarship. If I hadn’t played basketball and gotten that scholarship, I don’t know how I would have paid for college. I’m absolutely thankful and grateful for it.

There were ups and downs through my career at Kansas State. I played for two different coaching staffs. It wasn’t a perfect experience by any means, but there was still something really special about being a Division I student-athlete. I stuck with it. I learned resiliency; I learned not to run away from issues. I was a 5-foot-11 two-guard in high school, which meant I could easily shoot over people, and I averaged over 28 points a game. In college, though, I ended up playing as a forward and being a defender and screener. I was named best defensive player and most inspirational player my senior year. It was a complete 180. It humbles you.

I was an exercise science and gerontology major, and thought I was going to have a career in sports medicine or cardiac rehab — something like that. Then, during the summers at Kansas State when I stayed to go to school and work out, I started working in the athletics department. By my fifth year, after I finished playing and was completing my two degrees, I started working in the Bramlage Coliseum ticket office. That was really my first exposure to the administration side. I remember being in my cubicle, and there was an NCAA manual sitting there. I started flipping through the manual, and I literally started reading it cover to cover, which is a really odd thing — not a lot of people would do that. I remember looking at specific pieces of bylaws. “Oh, that’s why we had to do that when I was a student-athlete.” Or, “Oh, when I was injured my senior year and my coach said I wasn’t allowed to travel with the team for an away game, that actually was not because of NCAA rules. It was a coach’s decision.”

I now know there were things that happened as a female student-athlete that were not fair. I know things that happened that should have been handled differently. They may have technically met the letter of the law, but it wasn’t right, say, compared to what our football team or men’s basketball team was getting at the time versus what we were for women’s basketball. Chartered planes, access to practice facilities, access to the weight room — those kinds of things.

As I was trying to figure out the next steps academically, I went to the library and started researching different kinds of master’s programs. I learned that there were sport administration master’s programs available and that I could take that path to build a career in athletics. I never had a coach or an administrator — or anyone — say, “Hey, have you ever thought about a career in athletics?”

Fast forward a couple of decades, and that is a big part of what pulled me away from being a conference commissioner and into this position. There’s only one of these jobs in the world: As the vice president of NCAA women’s basketball, I have an opportunity to help mold and shape the game for the next 10 to 20 years.

There is an expectation in the women’s basketball community, and I would say the larger intercollegiate athletics community, that we grow and develop the game. And that shouldn’t be limited to what’s happening on the court. From my own experiences and from what we hear from our women’s basketball student-athletes, we need to put successful women and others in front of our female student-athletes so they have a better understanding of what opportunities exist. I would like us to do some more things for women’s basketball student-athletes to expose them to the opportunities of how they can stay involved in the game. That may be through officiating, coaching, getting involved in youth basketball or as a sport administrator.

It’s all facets of the game. We need to build our community and infrastructure in a way that ensures college basketball is a launching pad for young women, not just a sport they happened to play in college.

Lynn Holzman was named NCAA vice president of women’s basketball in 2017. Previously, she was commissioner of the West Coast Conference. She was a women’s basketball player at Kansas State from 1990 to 1994.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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