Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Lopiano Departing Women's Sports Foundation

By Mel Greenberg

Back in the summer of 1976 when yours truly was busy trying to set up the mechanics and build the board for the first weekly collegiate women's basketball poll that evolved into the Associated Press rankings, a recommendation was made to contact one Donna A. Lopiano, a transplanted Easterner who was at the University of Texas.

As it turned out, when the call was made, Lopiano was not a coach, but in the process of building the Longhorns athletic program as its women's athletic director in charge of an operation that was then independent of the men's program.

Lopiano did make reference to contact a coach she had just hired by the name of Jody Conradt.

Texas went on to become one of the top overall collegiate programs for women and the Longhorns basketball team, after several disappointments, captured the 1986 NCAA championship as the tournament's first to finish with a perfect record.

Ironically, several months after Conradt announced her retirement, Lopiano is about to make her own career move.

After 18 years in Austin, Lopiano returned to the Northeast to become the CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation in New York.

On Friday, an email arrived, and, while surprisingly we haven't seen commentary elsewhere, Lopiano announced she is leaving the position after 15 years.

"I know it takes at least 10 years to build greatness," said Lopiano, noting her two longterm stints at Texas and with the foundation. "I know I only have time for one more such `build' in me." She said she wants that effort to be "a product of everything I have learned."

Lopiano was also president of the former Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1981 when the NCAA voted in governance and women's championships at its annual convention.

While the governance issue (placing women on committees, etc.) was passed by the membership in the morning session in Miami, the championship package fell on a close vote.

Outside the hall, while Lopiano was interviewed by reporters over what was perceived as a victory, she quickly noted that the result would eventually revert in favor of the NCAA.

As it turned out, after some lobbying efforts during the lunchtime break, the championship package was brought back on the floor for a vote and enacted.

A year later in 1982, the AIAW closed shop following diluted fields in all its 1981-82 events as teams overwhelmingly chose the NCAA events.

Over the years, Lopiano has been a fierce proponent and defender of Title IX, the congressional legislation passed in 1972 that helped bring about athletic scholarships and programs for women at federally-funded universities.

It will be intriguing to see where the former collegiate softball star lands to launch her final crusade.

-- Mel

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