Texas women’s athletics director speaks at alumni ceremony


Taylor Award Winner, Christine Plonsky, watches a video put together for her during the JMC Awards in Franklin Hall on Friday Oct. 2, 2015.

Ian Flickinger

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication welcomed back alumna Chris Plonsky, the current director of women’s athletics at the University of Texas, on Friday for the 2015 Alumni Awards Ceremony.


Plonsky said she first realized she wanted to attend Kent State after her father took her to see a Flashes’ basketball game versus St. Bonaventure in 1970. The Memorial Gym (now the M.A.C. Center) was sold out. In fact, it was the largest crowd in Kent State history (7,778 people).

Although her time as a Flash ended 36 years ago, Plonsky recounts her time in college as if it occurred just a week ago.

Her most memorable moment comes from her time working at The Daily Kent Stater. Plonsky was editor when the state reached a settlement with the families of the victims of the May 4 shootings and remembers having to reshuffle the next day’s paper to fit the new itinerary. The staff did this by hand, as the Internet didn’t take off until the early 1990s.

Plonsky calls the ensuing night a team effort and says she’s proud of what the university has done to honor those students, saying, “a part of history happened here.”

She calls the Stater “a family” and says she loved writing in college because she learned so much from her peers.

“When I started working for the Stater, those competitive lessons applied totally in another competitive environment,” Plonsky said. “Everybody on our staff, regardless of position, had this relentless work ethic and pride. We wanted to, as a team, create that great product (the Daily Kent Stater), There was this relentless pursuit of perfection … that’s what athletic teams do, that’s what individual athletes do — you might not be the superstar but your role is going to be important.”

“The biggest lesson I learned here [Kent State], whether it was journalism or athletics or the Stater, was it’s about people first and then your role and skills after that,” Plonsky said. “If you don’t think about people while you’re creating content or doing a story or managing a situation, then you’re probably not going to be a very good teammate, employee, leader — it’s still people first.”

Her career began at Kent State, working as a women’s sports information director, before she moved on to Iowa State and eventually Texas.

She had a stint as an associate director for the Big East Conference before returning to Texas in 1993, working different roles in marketing, communications and branding for the men’s and women’s department. In 2001, the University of Texas named her the school’s third women’s athletic director.


Plonsky speaks with a slight southern drawl. Twenty-plus years of “Texas-livin’” has modified her Midwestern accent.

She said she had never traveled to Iowa or Texas before taking either job, but knew of Texas because she watched football throughout her childhood with her father, a former college football player.

“When I went to the state (Texas,) there’s just something about that place— they really do think they’re their own country… there’s this pride and swagger and yet very much the values I think Midwesterners grew up with: family, education, relationships, communication, all those things that I was taught, Texans believe in fiercely,” Plonsky said. “But the fabric of excellence down there, for this university anyway, is palpable.”

She said the biggest draw to UT wasn’t the athletic department, which brought in the second most revenue in 2014 ($161,035,187 billion), but the academics.

“The academic reputation of the place was the attraction for me,” she said. “Meeting people on the academic side, who are preeminent in their field, and who, by the way, care a lot about athletics.”

Coming from Kent State, the sheer size of the university is what really surprised Plonsky — the old adage ‘everything’s bigger in Texas’ apparently extends to the state university, too.

“(Coming to Texas) I was looking at a flagship, a state supported flagship… it’s enormous; we’re a city within a city,” Plonsky said. “The athletics budget, as big as Texas is, makes up less than three percent of the entire academic budget. When our president has a problem during the day, we’re probably not his biggest one.”

Plonsky said schools are looking at athletic events differently now, referencing how Purdue University is going to open up a section for students to tailgate and grill in the stadium.

“Kids, you know, they want to socialize and not just sit and be riveted,” she said. “So we’re (Texas) paying attention to all those kinds of things, as most schools are.”

She recounts a trip to another Big 12 school, where they showed off a new state-of-the-art recruiting room, designed for a personalized experience for players or boosters. The room would be tailored specifically for the visitors. When she asked what happened to the buildout (she says it cost upwards of $1 million to create) once the department completed the project,they said it would be torn down.

Plonsky said she would do things differently at Texas, hence their new recruiting tool: virtual reality.

“Content, you might see the team running out of the tunnel, or the band. Then we’re going to talk about academics, because we know what they want to study, and then we’re going to talk about our campus, our city, our alumni,” she said. 

Plosnky said she believes the football-first mentality in Texas begins with high schoolers, where coaches not only train players on the field, but in the classroom as their teachers as well. She said coaches have an academic connection with their players, who’ve learned to focus on college academics — as well as athletics— which makes Texas an appealing location for recruiting.

Recently, the New York Times referenced Plonsky as the subject of an in-depth story on the disparity between men and women in the search for athletic directors. As a mainstay at one of the richest and most powerful athletic departments in college sports, many believed Plonsky should have replaced Steve Patterson as the university’s athletic director, when the university relieved the former of his duties Sept. 15.

Plonsky, for her part, dismissed the idea, saying she’s right where she should be and that very few women have a job like hers.

Plonsky, who graduated with a journalism degree in 1979, also captained the basketball team and ran the 1979 Daily Kent Stater for the winter quarter.

Ian Flickinger is the sports editor for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]