She tells the class about the primary goals of her department. She articulated one of those goals several years ago, at the Associated Press Sports Editors' convention in Orlando, Fla., where she had gone to scare up more press coverage for women's sports. "I tell all my coaches," Lopiano said from the dais that day, " 'If you're not in the Top 10, goodbye.' "
Klaxons had sounded throughout the room. Isn't that the sort of win-at-all-costs thinking that had turned men's athletics into a pool of scuzzy pond life? Al Vieira, of the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union, sent a story back to his paper. "Nice going, Donna," he wrote. "You were dumb enough to really say that. You were even dumber to defend it."
Today, she still defends it. "Your goals always reflect your resources," she says. "President Cunningham says he wants ours to be the best law school in the country. What's unacceptable is to be Number One in athletics and 50th in academics."
But Top 10 or you're gone? "It horrifies most people when I say it. But if Texas allows me to pay market value for a coach in the Top 10, it's a given, in light of the facilities we have here. Remember, I don't have just one goal."
The other goals—the satisfactory progress of athletes toward a degree, and coaches' adherence to NCAA rules—aren't incidental, and she'll fire in a nanosecond a coach who doesn't meet them. She actually holds her coaches responsible for the academic performance of their players. "If a coach can say you won't play if you don't go to practice, a coach can say you won't play if you don't go to class," Lopiano says. "Our mean SAT score went up 100 points the first year after we started holding coaches accountable. You can't allow for excuses in this area, or it will kill you. And kill your kids."
The Texas coaches are tested on NCAA rules at the beginning of every school year. "There are only 70 pages in the NCAA Manual that pertain to recruiting and your function as a coach," she tells them. "You'll never get in trouble if you know those 70 pages. We make it your responsibility to know them."
A coach who breaks a significant rule unintentionally receives no merit raise and is stripped of all departmental perks for a year. "And if it's intentional," says Lopiano, "you're outta here."
The class period is winding down. "The public knows our graduation rate and work in the community," Lopiano says. "The public knows us. They'll be there when we lose." Whenever that day comes.
Professor Rippey's students have been good. "How can you tell," Lopiano asks them, "when an Aggie's been using your computer?"