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.
It takes hustling, but Lopiano collects $3.68 million a year to make her department go, including $1.3 million from the discretionary funds of president Cunningham, whose son is a Lady Longhorn basketball ball boy. Only slightly more than 10% of the women's budget comes from revenues generated by the men. It's a sum even Royal could live with. "Our school spends $12 million on the men and $3.68 million on the women," Lopiano says. "That's comparable and fair. [Title IX mandates comparable programs.] All but one of our coaches have the same salaries as theirs do. But it costs them $900 to outfit one football player. I'm not going to buy chinchilla warmups for my basketball team just to equal that."
The most encouraging part of turning your attention to the Lady Longhorns is that you come away believing there's no good reason why Lopiano's working model of an athletic department can't be adopted anywhere else, for either gender. "I've never gotten a 'No' here," she says. "I've gotten a 'Wait,' or a 'Think this through,' but never an outright 'No.' This place has an extraordinary desire to be the best."
The other is Lopiano herself. After the basketball team went 34-0 in 1986, only the athletic director could see the flaw in the perfect season. "An alumnus went up to Donna and said, 'We ought to have a big party for Jody and all she's done,' " says Heard of Inside Texas. "Donna just said, 'Jody has a girl who's not making her grades.' I'd like to see her run the whole damn department, men and women."
Unmarried, Lopiano lives in a three-bedroom house in northwest Austin with her Great Dane, Ali Baba. Or, rather, she catches naps there. Most days she is up by 3 a.m. and soon thereafter is at her desk in Bellmont Hall, on the seventh floor.
"I would love it if no one would compare us to the men and create the tension that's been created," Lopiano says. "But I'm not going to apologize. I've chatted with DeLoss a number of times about all this. If he's good at something, I want to be as good."
One afternoon last spring, a university official took Lopiano and Dodds on a tour of the new recreation and intramurals building that's going up on campus. They were issued hard hats at the entrance. Before Lopiano put hers on, Dodds turned to a companion and said, "If anything hits her head, her head'll break it."
Dodds meant it. But he didn't say it without admiration. If today brickbats and other objects roll so easily off Donna Lopiano, it's only because a lollipop stick once made its impression.