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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

In Search of a New NCAA Women's Basketball Czarina

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

As the 2017-18 collegiate women’s basketball year is fast approaching, and in the more recent world of change already started arriving, what many consider perhaps the most important hire in the entire sport, and, yes, that also includes the WNBA, is up for consideration.

No, it’s not the UConn coaching job, or some other position, either coaching or administratively at the elite level of the Power Five or high Mid-Major schools.

Earlier this month, Anucha Browne, former Northwestern star and all-timer in Big Ten women’s basketball, announced she is leaving her post as the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball for a position with UNICEF near her native Brooklyn in New York.

Incidentally, she led the nation in scoring her senior season with the Wildcats.

An aside: During her NCAA stint she probably produced more selfies -- yes she got yours truly several times -- than her entire photo archive of her fabulous career at Northwestern.

Browne’s announcement came on the fifth anniversary of the announcement of her hire from a position as senior women’s administrator and also senior associate athletic director for marketing at Buffalo.

Before that she held a high marketing position with the NBA New York Knicks, where she made headlines winning a sexual harassment lawsuit against then-general manager Isiah Thomas, now president of the WNBA New York Liberty, and Madison Square Garden, the corporate entity which involves ownership of the Knicks, NHL New York Rangers, the Liberty, and several other sports franchises.

“I feel I’m leaving the NCAA at a time when we’re in a very good place. Things went extremely well in Dallas last April with the sellout and the entire event,” she said after her departure was announced. “At the same time, personally, it will be great to be back on the East Coast but I’ll always be ready to do whatever I can to help the cause of women’s basketball.”

Browne’s title was different and more inclusive of all three divisions than that of her predecessor Sue Donohoe, then Vice President of Division I basketball who went on to head the Kay Yow Foundation for a stint and also serve as president of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., before her retirement to Texas.

Donohoe was also an assistant to Gary Blair at Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas and served with him under Leon Barmore at Louisiana Tech, her native state.

“It’s a biggie, no question,” Donohoe said last weekend of the vacancy. “You’re talking about continuing to oversee the growth of the women’s basketball tournament and many other aspects.”

As of this initial posting from your Guru on the topic, it seems to be still unknown whether the job will open to all applicants or whether a search committee will be formed.

But what is known that things are a little different than last time around with the ultimate decision, pending approval from NCAA President Mark Emmert, will be in the hands of Dan Gavitt, senior vice president of basketball, who was hired several months before Browne as men’s vice president of basketball.

Gavitt, the son of Hall of Famer and Big East founder, the late Dave Gavitt, was later promoted to Senior Vice President of Basketball and became Browne’s boss besides being over the two men and women’s basketball oversight committees.

In 2012 there was a search committee and Mark Lewis, no longer with the NCAA, then called the final shot at a time that a lot of viable women’s candidates refrained from pursuit either because of the advertised salary, happiness in their jobs at the time of being contacted, reluctance to live in Indianapolis, or not desired to be employed at the NCAA at a time when the organization was involved in more than its usual share of controversies.

 In some recent off the record talks there is a general consensus of comfort with Gavitt, who certainly knows many women’s basketball notables he could reference, even if he had to do the whole drill himself.

One is his former boss, Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, for whom he was in charge of the conference men’s tourney prior to his arrival at the NCAA and at a time after the great schism that saw the other piece of the old Big East become the American Athletic Conference.

Ackerman was pursued by the NCAA outside the search committee in 2012 and gave a polite no thank you but soon after agreed to do a white paper for the organization on the state of the sport and soon after that became the commissioner of the new Big East.

Some with knowledge of the national organization say fit and the being able to work under the NCAA culture will be important components in filling the position. 

And the person shouldn’t be arriving with a needed education in the sport, though if the person was someone outside the sphere as Laurel Richie was in becoming WNBA president, depending what is brought to the table, that kind of hire might be not be objectionable.  

Another individual heavily pursued last time around outside the search committee was ESPN’s Carol Stiff, who was served in various roles as the liason between NCAA women’s basketball and the giant sports TV network.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see her pursued again.

 The 2012 search committee included former WBCA head Beth Bass, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and Penn State coach Coquese Washington, among others.

Browne isn’t leaving until late October with the hire to be on board by November or December.

“It’s a tricky time,” Donohoe said. “I got hired in December and arrived in January and at the time we didn’t even have the hotels designated yet for the 2000 tourney in Philly, which is still one of our biggest all-time in terms of attendance and media credentialing.

“Of course, we had a three-person staff at the NCAA in our area which is much, much larger now.”

Donohoe was also aided in the fact that Cathy Andruzzi, then executive director of the local organization committee, was an expert in raising money – a record at the time for the tourney – and tournament infrastructure so she was able to jump start things like seating charts, etc.

So while names internally haven’t popped yet,  we're at the reason that many of you are reading this, based on text messages as "when’s it coming," this is the Guru’s long list headed by the short list. The reason for the long list is if I don’t mention other names, you’ll ask why not, so you will now see why not.

FRONT OF THE CROWD

Michelle Perry – “You never want to say `never,’” she said recently. She was the former right hand to Donohoe and those of us at the early mock selections knew her as the professor of women’s bracketology in taking us through the procedure.

She went on to consulting and is now the local executive director of the 2018 Women’s Final Four in Columbus. While that might be seen as a problem, considering that job won’t conclude until April, it also calls for synergy with the NCAA and since she knows both sides of the street, the period between December and April could be managed with a little bit of creativity.

And she already comes with a learning curve in terms of the NCAA.

Kelly Krauskopf – Was a finalist last time around and a favorite among the masses with knowledge of the search. As general manager of the WNBA Indiana Fever, moving expenses would be nil. She has past experience in the old Southwest Conference. But she wasn’t ready to change addresses last time and one doesn’t know as the Fever enter a rare rebuilding phase whether she would be this time around.

Leslie Claybrook – A basketball committee member who oversees Southeastern Conference women’s basketball and is a past referee when asked, said, “It’s a good job. I’m sure many will go after it.” Whether she might be one is not known but certainly has a lot of qualifications on the intangibles.

OTHER “A” LIST TO NAME BUT NOT HAPPENING

Danielle Donehew – Head of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Happy where she’s at as a popular hire several years ago to help shore up the existing problems of that organization.

Carol Callan – Head of USA Basketball women’s programs. Not likely to leave where she is at, especially with the state of Colorado a factor.

Chris Polonsky – SWA and other positions at Texas. Wealth of experience but not leaving the Lone Star State

Nora Lynn Finch – Head of ACC women’s basketball and the only time you find her above the Mason-Dixon Line is for required meetings, conference teams in competition or other premium women’s basketball events. Like Plonsky, wealth of experience, though, and served with Kay Yow at N.C. State and later became the SWA with the Wolfpack.

Sandy Barbour – If she was still in a former job at Cal-Berkeley, mark her down. But she’s the Penn State AD. Not happening.

Ceal Barry – Former Colorado coach and now the Buffs’ SWA and senior associate athletic director for internal operations at the school. Would need some real persuading to ply her from the Rockies.

Marsha Sharp – Former Texas Tech coach and now Associate AD for special projects. See Ceal Barry but substitute Texas for Colorado.

Connie Hurlbut – Was a finalist last time. Now is women’s senior administrator for West Coast Conference. A recent hire from the WAC will keep the rest of her body with her heart in San Francisco.

NCAA INSIDE EXPERIENCE

Joni Comstock – A past chair of the women’s basketball committee but not likely since she’s running half the organization that’s not Division I WBB.

Lynn Holzman – Current commissioner of the West Coast Conference. Played basketball at Kansas State and served 16 years in the NCAA with membership and academic activity and in the position women’s basketball ran many things by her. Don’t know interest.

Diane Dickman – Working at NCAA in governance and mentioned by people with organization knowledge as someone who could be a viable candidate from the inside if interested.

WORLD OF THE WNBA

Renee Brown – No longer serving in the women’s pro league but with the NBA. Don’t know interest but you have to at least find out and then take it from there in the vetting process.

Theresa Wentzel – President of the Atlanta Dream. Past experience as the SWA at Georgia Tech. Known to look at jobs for her ability to make an impact as compared to the financial viability against whatever her current position might be.

Amber Cox – Fabulous marketing experience. Worked under Ackerman at Big East as the women’s associate but she’s happy to be in the pros where she is a high executive with the Connecticut Sun and the Black Wolves lacrosse squad owned by the Mohegans.

Kraren Bryant – Past executive with the WNBA Seattle Storm and also the former ABL Seattle Reign. Don’t know what she’s doing now or interested but several types offered her name in the Guru casting call for WNBA crowd candidates.

OTHER NAMES

Jill Bodensteiner – SWA at Notre Dame and member of the WBB committee. Might consider it once all specs are known.

Felicia Hall Allen - President and CEO of Felicia Hall Allen & Associates, a motivational speaking, training, consulting and sports management company.  An attorney also and played for current Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa and was also an executive with the former WNBA Charlotte Sting. Was a finalist in the last search and also in the WBCA search. 

Teri Howes – Oversees WBB and other sports at West Virginia. Don’t know interest if approached.

Theresa Grentz – Besides well liked by longtimers who remember Immaculata playing days and then others in her Saint Joseph’s/Rutgers/Illinois coaching career, it’s her marketing pizzazz and ability to work the boys in the boardrooms that cause her name to be mentioned when these type of jobs open. Don’t know, however, how she and the NCAA culture would mesh.

Linda Bruno – Former Atlantic Ten commissioner and past head of the WBB committee at a time when things really grew and popped. She’s out there. She knows them and they know her. How much traction that’s worth time will tell. Don’t know yet if she is considering getting involved.

Bernadette McGlade – Now Atlantic 10 Commissioner. Was a WBB committee chair, and SWA of the ACC prior to Nora Lynn Finch. Her past jobs would put her on the list. Her current job probably means no thanks.

Sarah Baumgartner – A Guru rising star submission.  Has climbed rapidly in the Rutgers athletic department doing great things in fundraising and other activity. Also has overseen women’s basketball. Don’t know if interested if were approached.

Ok that’s it for starters. Any of you who have others who need to be discussed and want to whisper, you know where to find your Guru. To be continued.