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Episode 035 – University of Texas Athletics Director Christine Plonsky

Posted on Jan 12, 2017 by in Podcast Episode | 0 comments



 

Chris joins us to talk the early days as a sports information director, building the Big East Conference, USA Basketball and of course, the University of Texas athletics juggernaut.

 

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Bio:

Today we are joined by someone who has quite literally done it all in athletics administration. Christine Plonsky is the Women’s Athletic Director and the Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Services at the University of Texas.

Chris has worked in collegiate athletics for 40 years, spending 28 of those years with the Longhorns. She holds (or has held) leadership positions with numerous organizations including the NCAA, USA Basketball and the National Association for Collegiate Directors of Athletics or NACDA, an organization for which she serves as the 2016-17 chair.

Interview:

  1. You have such an interesting background with so many leadership positions to your credit, I thought it would be fun and useful to spend the majority of our time weaving through those roles and having you share a leadership moment or lesson you recall from each.
    1. Very fortunate. Blessed with parents who encouraged her to pursue her passions. Sports was one of those, along with education. Title IX opened up opportunities at the time she was getting going.
  2. You got your start working in sports information at your undergraduate institution Kent State; what do you most recall from those early days and is there anything you learned then that you still rely on today?
    1. First behind the scenes look at athletics programs
    2. Her coach sent her to the Sports Information office to offer to help with stats and publicity for her team; learned about media coverage too
    3. Dave Gavitt was a mentor; Providence basketball coach and Big East founder – learned from him that a publicist must know everything but not talk about everything; must be ahead of the media; build confidence and trust with coaches and student athletes; be honest with people
    4. Enjoyed melding journalism training with publicity training; she really wanted to be a sports writer, and sort of fell into writing for the sports teams instead of a newspaper
    5. (Daniel asking about quick pace of change in communications) – She still misses the print days, but now truth is more valuable, viral and universal. So if you do great work, it can get large exposure quickly and shared.
  3. From there you moved on to Iowa State and the University of Texas, continuing to move up in the sports information world. What stands out as career impacting from either of those stops?
    1. Proud of UT – began there in the Darrell Royal, Earl Campbell era; was a juggernaut in women’s athletics; worked for Donna Lopiano who established the women’s athletics department and was a trailblazer; admired for graduation rates, fundraising, competitive success; led to Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Jayne Mitchner (big Texas politicians who were plugged into the program)
  4. You then spend seven years with the Big East Conference. Talk to us about the transition from a position within a single university to advocating on behalf of a group of universities.
    1. The Big East was a manna from heaven opportunity. She was a basketball junkie and admired Villanova ’85 and their victory over Georgetown.
    2. Got an interview in the summer of ’86 and got the job to go work for Gavitt
    3. Schools were small, but the TV markets were large, conference was born for basketball at the right time, when ESPN was young and growing
    4. Dave would remind them that they were only as strong as the weakest link. Seton Hall was struggling at that time, but within a few years P.J. Carlesimo had them in the NCAA final. The league had a huge role in that. UConn too! Make your weakest link stronger, and your schools will be stronger. Your large schools will usually be fine.
    5. Everybody pulls on the same wagon when you’re in a conference. Gavitt pushed new ideas like the ACC/Big East challenge – the coaches didn’t want one more hard game, but he knew it would be great TV and good for the league, and therefore the teams.
    6. Led to international trips as well which are great cultural experiences for the student-athletes and great alumni rally opportunities.
  5. It was also during this time you became involved with USA Basketball; how did that come about and what was the experience like?
    1. Owe Dave this again! He was head of the USA Basketball’s predecessor. John Thompson was the coach of the ’88 team which was the last amateur team before the pros took over in ’92 (Dream Team).
    2. She was involved primarily with the women’s program in addition to being a publicist for the men’s program.
    3. Jerry Colangelo has been amazing the past two cycles alongside Mike Krzyzewski
    4. The women have continued their excellence as well – winning gold each Olympics since ’92.
    5. (Daniel asking about keys to the men’s program resurgence) – Starting at ground zero and talking about patriotism; appealing to player’s sense of duty; women’s program winning too.
  6. You then make your return to the University of Texas, this time as an Associate AD over external operations and then after a promotion the Director of Women’s Athletics; talk to us about the structure of UT’s athletic department since many of us likely aren’t familiar with it, and how you and your counterpart on the men’s side work together.
    1. Unique structure
    2. She never thought about being an AD; DeLoss Dodds hired her to look for new revenue generation opportunities (corporate sponsorship, licensing, broadcast rights); also needed her to implement the addition of female sports which was a response to a Title IX lawsuit
    3. Operational areas at Texas, which had been completely separate between men/women, began to consolidate and not are completely consolidated; worked on revenue channels which are now managed by IMG, including the Longhorn Network/ESPN.
    4. So now she reports to the president for the 11 female sports she oversees, and to the Men’s AD Mike Perin for the operational/revenue/external areas.
    5. Iowa, Arkansas, Tennessee and BYU were
  7. You are currently serving as the chair of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA); tell us what that has been like and why it is important for us to not only participate in industry organizations, but invest our time in leadership roles as well?
    1. These are the people who make the industry tick
    2. The expertise on these boards are the great passionate leaders of college athletics
    3. Tim Selgo (Grand Valley AD/2015-16 NACDA chair) preceded Chris as the chair
  8. Rapid fire questions
    1. Name one trait or characteristic you look for when you hire someone, and one you try to avoid?
      1. Dedication/passion, once the mental capacity/skill set is there
    2. What habit has been key to your success?
      1. Enjoying the grind; going to work every day and trying to get better
    3. One sentence of advice for emerging young leaders?
      1. Do the right thing even when no one is looking; leaders are people who innately make good decisions based on good preparation and good knowledge, but they don’t need a publicist beside them to make a good/right decision; good leaders inspire, and they inspire when they do the right and fair thing by virtue of their decision making.

Thank Yous/Acknowledgements:

  1. Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Groupmusic
    1. More here.
  2. Jonathan Davis – production
  3. Clint Musslewhite voice over

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