The woman, the myth, the athletic director. I use those terms loosely, because much like so-called mythical chupacabra, Chris Plonsky does indeed exist. Much like the magical chupacabra, Chris Plonsky is the only one of her kind. Literally. The only Women’s Athletic Director in NCAA Division I. And, much like the chupacabra, Plonsky might possibly suck the blood right out of your women’s athletics program.
Since 2001, Chris Plonsky has reigned along DeLoss Dodds and He Who Shall Not Be Named over what could be considered one of the most profitable and successful periods in University of Texas Athletics. And let’s just get right down to the point. Any school that has its own Women’s Athletic Director should pretty much kick a$$ at women’s athletics.
But in her 15 year tenure, Chris Plonsky’s administration has seen only three National Championships and 49 Conference Championships. That may sound like a lot, but respectively it’s a National Championship rate of 1.8% and a Conference Championship rate of 29% for Women’s Sports (club sports not included).
It forced me to make this sad table of the last 15 years:
That’s just not the best. It’s sad that Oklahoma State has ripped off seven conference women’s golf titles to our two in the last fifteen years. This sad table of records does not do much to marginalize the conception that the women’s AD position only exists as some kind of reaction to Title IX and the subsequent lawsuit. I know I thought that the LHN would have a real impact on women’s sports…but I have yet to see that happen.
One could venture to use the excuse that because Plonsky is also in charge of sponsorship sales, her focus isn’t really on sports. (This is where I start talking out of both sides of my mouth. I’ll be honest. I love being the richest and the best athletic program in the country. And since clearly, in recent years we haven’t been the best, let’s focus on being the richest.)
And she’s done a good job on paper. Texas brings in the bank on sponsorships and advertising. Our retail sales and promotion, digital media, and sponsorship sales are consistently among the highest in the country.
Plonsky was a pioneer. For instance, she has brought radio rights from $500,000 to $10 million in her tenure, along with multimillion dollar deals including Gatorade, Nike, Time Warner, HEB and the UFCU.
But some might argue that it’s too much. I mean, who hasn’t wanted to put on earmuffs to block out that gong at the Taco Bell Frank Erwin Center? Who hasn’t noticed the LHN, which rakes in $15 million for the school annually, has been shoved from its broadcast spot on the SE lawn of the Stadium to a tiny corner of the sideline so that some Chevy Silverados can have prime “integrated partner” parking spaces. Now, fans whose only option is to watch a football game on the LHN can’t even hear halftime commentary because the broadcast is roughly 22 feet from the Show Band of the Southwest. Chevy is also the current ad of choice covering the Left Field fence at Disch-Falk Field.
Mack Brown (leave Mack alone!) once said “I want the fans having fun. I want them wearing orange. And I don’t want it to be just a football game. I want it to be something you do if you are in the state of Texas on Saturday. You make time in your schedule for it, and you plan weddings and anniversaries around it. Because this is Texas football.”
I don’t care what you think about Mack’s tenure as a coach because that’s not the point here. I love this mentality. When I was a student, games were so much fun. Maybe it was a whiskey fueled kind of fun, but I don’t remember seeing seven “commercials” a game asking fans to become Longhorn Foundation Members. There was no Mighty Fine Gorilla harassing students. And Tiff’s Treats was still Tiffany’s Treats run by two my classmates from an apartment oven, not a giant cookie conglomerate pushing blue ribbon, warm cookies at my face via famous former players.
Back when I was a kid, the jumbo-tron was probably a third of the size it is now, but contained 50% more useable video. Today’s Godzillatron is so covered in ads that I have to use my Dad’s binoculars to try to get a glimpse of the game stats, which scroll on a tiny 1/32 of the screen. Did I mention it doesn’t work…a lot? It’s either dark or earsplittingly loud – and don’t get me started on pumping the band through the sound system.
Rant aside, going to a game these days is like going to a four-hour commercial with football played during the breaks, because Texas sports are probably commercialized more than any other school in the nation.
Plonsky also manages the trademark and licensing programs for athletics. As readers of Shaggytexas.com can attest, the micromanagement of words like BEVO and TEXAS has gotten a little out of hand. While I can certainly understand there’s a line that must be drawn, I’m not sure that line is a cease and desist for an alumni hosting a “We Were Texas” website. Because, you know, the word “Texas.” Yet even with this astounding grasp of who uses the word Texas or Bevo, Plonsky and the university failed to obtain the rights to www.firestevepatterson.com and/or any other coach or employee (Greg Davis, Mack Brown) on the staff. Hint: Before you announce your newest hire, just go ahead and purchase the “firing” website version of their name.
It would seem that Plonsky is so busy managing the marketing/media side of things that women’s athletic performance has suffered due to a lack of attention. But quite the opposite. Coach Gail Goestenkors who took the Lady Blue Devils of Duke to 10 straight Sweet Sixteen appearances and four Final Fours, managed just one tournament win in five years. Her resignation “shocked” Plonsky who noted after the announcement “We will find a leader for our players, this place is not for the faint of heart." Pretty ballsy statement from an AD who’s Coach just retired at 49 because she was “tired” and done with “intense criticism”. I mean, who hasn’t heard the rumors that Plonsky is so obsessed with the women’s basketball program that she constantly texted and called Goestenkors, weighing in her opinions on everything from recruiting to how players should be playing. Goestenkors probably was tired. Tired of having the women’s AD so far up in her business.
In addition to trying to blame poor athletic performance on Plonsky’s media/marketing duties, I might even try the approach that she’s busy keeping the program clean. And she would have almost gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those crazy kids…and by crazy kids I mean crazy track coach.
Under Plonsky’s watch, Women’s track coach and former All American runner Bev Kearney resigned and subsequently sued the University for discrimination. Of course, the story has to be more scandalous – in the lawsuit Kearney outlines that she was "repeatedly demeaned in front of others, including (her) own athletes, and falsely accused of NCAA violations" and that Plonsky did nothing to stop it and was "consistently verbally abusive" to her.
I don’t see a ton of mention in here from Kearney that she was being forced to resign after it came to light that she had a long term relationship with one of her student athletes that she did not disclose. Though later she did say "I am aware that there is a culture at UT-Austin that actually encourages these relationships because no one (who is in such a relationship) ever self-reports, or is disciplined in any manner for failing to self-report." Which is kind of like saying that the police encourage murder because murderers don’t always turn themselves in.
Besides the fact that the culture in the athletic department has allowed people in positions of power to feel they are untouchable no matter how inappropriate they are (i.e. Steve Patterson) is disgusting, it kind of rings true. I’m not shocked that she got fired, and it has nothing to do with her inappropriate “secret” relationship with a student athlete. It has to do with the fact that Kearney had a loud reputation for manipulating her athletes with gifts and creating a pretty hostile environment for her team reminiscent of a kind of caste system…and I’m not going to point blank say something that could get me sued, but I’m pretty sure the student with whom Kearney had her affair drove a pretty nice car. Kearney was a little too involved with her athlete’s social lives and chastised players, much in the way she is claiming to have been chastised by her own co-workers, publically for reasons that had nothing to do with track or academics. It was also widely known that the only time Kearney mentioned that she was being discriminated against for being black, gay and female was when she wasn’t getting her way, even though Kearney herself has been accused of racism by former athletes who say she openly favored black athletes over white ones. Always the squeaky wheel, Kearney even went so far as to forbid her athletes from cheering for their male Longhorn counterparts.
Had Plonsky (and to be fair, Dodds) not let their athletic department become this entitled and out of control, they could have saved an embarrassing lawsuit for the school. Clearly Kearney was not, and had not, been a team player for quite some time. But Plonsky allowed her to remain and poison the athletic department and the reputation of the university.
All of this reinforces the ideal that while Plonsky excels at the media & marketing aspects of her position, she is seen as a weak and timid and ineffective as an athletic director, and that she immediately bends to the will of the Men’s AD and contributes little (positives) to the actual athletics side of the organization.
She completely exposed this when she sent an announcement regarding the resignation of the women’s tennis coach that included the phrase "we are feverishly fund raising to ensure that our men's and women's teams benefit from this new facility” (blah blah blah) even though the money was already there. Plonsky is so completely incompetent at being an AD she managed to forget that $15 million dollars had already been allocated for the project…simply because Steve Patterson told her he didn’t have it. She either forgot, which is inexcusable, or bent so easily to the will of the men’s AD that she was willing to lie. Which is also inexcusable. Wouldn’t a normal human have said “Hmmm, I thought we had that money…let’s make a phone call?”
Couple this with the fact that the Women’s Athletic Director position is completely redundant, why still run the charade. Simply having a Women’s AD will not save us from Title IX litigation, nor does it mean we are more progressive or successful as an athletic program. It just creates confusion and distraction that as a University, we don’t need right now.
It’s time the University scrapped the position all together and put Plonsky where she belongs: In the kitchen.
Just kidding. By “in the kitchen” I mean “in the Multimedia Rights and Sponsorship Marketing Department.”