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Donna Lopiano a Longhorn sports Pioneer 

Most University administrations are slow to accept change. It took UT 50 years to concede that women could tolerate  physical punishment in competitive sports.  Tessa Nichols states that in the early years of the 20th century  women's sports were "circumscribed by gender norms and restrictive ideologies which delineated the acceptable ways in which women could perform in sports".  During those years "excessive" competition for woman was considered too "masculine". To eliminate the masculine aspect of sports the physical educators of this period decried record setting and personal athletic glory. The goal of Women's sports only "aimed to ensure that the health and educational best interest for their women students were sacrosanct". 

Donna Lopiano would prove these cliches as a fraud. University president Rogers said of Donna "Texans love go-getters," says Texas women’s track coach Crawford “Donna thrives on being a pioneer." All  pioneers deserves to be judged by a different set of standards. Pioneers need more time to fulfill a vision then established programs. By definition, Pioneers are risk takers and without them there is no beginning. Sports pioneers use vision, insight, resolve, and many other intangibles to excel. They are able to successfully implement new ideas,  and  remove obstacles that others could not.  

In addition to dealing with the same problems that all administrators face in a athletic departments, sports pioneers must contend with the major obstacles inherent in changing or creating a new program.  Pioneers are restrained by small budgets, the ebb and flow of recruiting, and turf wars with other competing sports programs within the athletic department. 

While men have many challenges as sports pioneers,  women have more. Before a woman could be recognized as an athlete, Athletic Director,  or coach they had to first secure equal rights. It was not until the 1950's that a movement started that would  eventually correct many of the the bias's inculcated into the fiber of  society.  Sports led the way in this renaissance, and in 1975  "nothing in moderation" Donna Lopiano led the charge. Lopiano was a "ardent feminist" who fought for equal rights for women at a university that was dominated by a successful men's program. Aided by Title IX, the civil rights movement, and her take no prisoner leadership style, Donna Lopiano was the right hire at the right time in the history of  Longhorn women's sports.   

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Donna Lopiano was able to harness women's sports as a venue to enhance women's rights in other forums.

Lopiano  corrected many of the gender inequalities that separated the men's program from the women's program including coaching salaries, dining hall access, and use of  the  training facilities.

Tessa Nichols' Master of Arts thesis titled ORGANIZATIONAL VALUES AND WOMEN'S SPORTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS 1918-1992 captures all the leadership skills of Lopiano.  Tessa's says that  Donna Lopiano built a successful Longhorn Women's Athletic Department by establishing: 

  • a performance team;

  • student athlete counseling services;

  • a psychological support system;

  • addressing health problems of the student athletes;

  • a commitment to the student athletes welfare; and

  • the creation of the Neighborhood Longhorns.


1975-1992  "Nothing in Moderation" Donna Lopiano makes her feelings known

•"The NCAA is General Motors. And I'm an inventor who wants to build a car that doesn't run on gasoline."

•"Title IX has never been enforced. It's the guillotine that's been rolled out into the city square to scare people off. But it's rusting, and needs a giant can of WD-40."


1975 - the Master teacher

Lorene Rogers, The President of the University of Texas, accepted the Advisory committee on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women recommendation to hire Donna Lopiano. The committee stated that Donna's energy, strong vision, and dynamic intellect convinced them that Lopiano was the right person for the job.  

Donna Lopiano's budget in 1975 was  $128,000 with 28 scholarship available.

In Italian, donna lo piano means, very roughly, "the quiet lady." Donna’s friends and coaches knew differently. "I thought I was a passenger in a runaway car for those first few years," Conradt says. "Donna didn't understand how laid-back this town was, or how much of a threat she was perceived to be. She wanted to do everything at once."

The quiet lady spent all of her first year in Austin in Coach Royals office not being quiet. She wanted Royal to establish the women's athletic department as part of the men's department. Royal rejected the “quiet ladies” overture so she got louder.


says “Perhaps the supreme irony of the Lady Longhorns' prosperity is that when Lopiano originally tried to bring her program in under the men, it was Royal's refusal to let her do so that assured the women's success. Lopiano is the first to say so, now. Nothing in the women's department is deemed secondary to the men's department. Of the 296 colleges in the NCAA's Division I, only eight have autonomous women's athletic departments, but they are six times more likely to have teams in a women's Top 10 than are schools with merged departments.”

Robert Heard, publisher of Inside Texas, a newsletter on Longhorn sports, says, "She's gonna wind up with every scholarship in the program endowed." It takes hustling, but Lopiano collects $3.68 million a year to make her department go. Only slightly more than 10% of the women's budget comes from revenues generated by the men.

  Donna Lopiano is long term goal oriented.

One of her first long term goals  was to hire full time coaches instead of using teachers who coached on the side.   She envisioned coaches as "Master Teachers". She believed that "athletics was not separate from education, but intimately connected" The word "Master" referred to the coaches as the very best in the sport they taught,  and the word "Teacher" stressed the need for coaches  to possess a sound "personal educational philosophy".  By 1982 all of the Coaches in the Women's Athletic Department  were full time employees and each coach was ranked in  the top 10 in the country  in their respective sports.

The second long term goal  was to move the Longhorns from  competing only on a regional basis  to competing nationally  with a focus of playing at least 6 national ranked teams every season. 

The third Long term goal was to fund the maximum number of scholarships as designated by the organizational rules.

The fourth long term goal was to achieve an "exemplary graduation rate"  of no less than 95%. (Many parts of Lopiano's successful student academic model were adopted by the men's program in 2007.) 

Unlike Anna Hiss, Donna Lopiano believed that  a  sports organization structure could be created that valued winning, education, and student-athlete welfare.  Tessa Nichols states that Lopiano believed she could balance all of these factors and have great athletes and teams.  The transformation of her convictions  and long term goals into  reality are apparent.

Because of her high standard, Donna went thru 16 coaches in 10 years. "They were my mistakes, every one of them," she says. "But you can't live with your mistakes, because you're destroying kids."


Donna's 17 years as the Women's Athletic Director for Texas is unparalleled in College football history. 

Texas won national women's championships in basketball, cross-country, indoor track, outdoor track, swimming and volleyball. During her tenure Texas women produced 314 All-Americas and 14 Olympians. (Note: Softball, soccer,and rowing were not NCAA sports during Lopiano years as Athletic Director.)

  • One National Champion, 8 conference champions, and 8 tournament champions in basketball;

  • Six conference champions in golf;

  • Three indoor track national champions, 2 outdoor track national champions, 8 indoor track conference champions, and 7 out door champions in track;

  • Eleven conference champions and one national champion in volleyball;

  • Nine national champions and 10 conference champions in swimming;

  • One national champion in cross country;

  • One runner up to the national championship , one semi-final appearance, and 8 conference champions in Tennis, and a

  • 93%+ graduation rate.

Jim Deitrick says of Donna "I had the pleasure of serving as a faculty representative on the Intercollegiate Athletic Council for Women for four years under Donna's direction. She was the best! She was determined, strong, bold, outspoken and brilliant in developing her vision and making it become a reality. Times change, but I wish we hadn't deviated from her core positions. Thanks, Donna!👏🤘

Donna's success in funding and great coaching hires helps the Women's program grow

Funding for the department was derived from external and internal sources. Internal included Auxiliary ventures such as royalties from the sale of Longhorn merchandise, and voluntary student athletic fee. External funds came from independent sources which included private donors, The Fast Break Club, scholarship endowments, and gate receipts. 

In 1980 Lopiano's budget had grown from $128,000 to $850,000. IN  1987 the Women's Athletic budget was 2.8 million and in 1992 the Women's Athletic budget was  4.2 million.   


Horns UP to a pioneer who overcame many obstacles to create a first class Women's sports program at Texas



A battle ensued this year for more equity between the men’s and women’s sports programs. The participation rates and scholarship rates were to chang from 77 percent to 56 percent for men and 23 percent to 44 percent for women over a three year period. It was ordered that the University generate the money not men’s athletics.


More on Donna Lopiano to follow