2022 to 2023 – Women Leaders in  Sports

Under the direction of Heather Lyke, serving her second year as President, Women Leaders experienced a significant milestone in the advancement of the organization. As Women Leaders continued to grow and adapt to the dynamic landscape of sports leadership, the organization embraced a new and more inclusive chapter in its journey by evolving the brand to Women Leaders in Sports.

Women Leaders in Sports broadened its mandate to become a more inclusive platform that welcomed and supported women leaders from diverse backgrounds and professional experiences. The mission of Women Leaders remained – to develop, connect, advance, and champion ALL women in sports.

“It has been a transformative year for Women Leaders in Sports as we made the important decision to evolve and expand our organization to reflect the impact women’s sports and women leaders are having across all levels of sport.   It is truly an honor to serve and support his incredible organization because the mission is clear and the impact is evident.   To see over 1,300 women leaders gathered at this year’s convention was uplifting and I am confident this organization will continue to grow and help advance women and transform lives in a meaningful way.” said President Heather Lyke.

Beyond the brand evolution, the organization had many new initiatives throughout the year. The Champions for Change donation campaign was launched, allowing donors to get involved at a new level. There were 27 new donors, with 6 being at the PowHER pledge level, the highest level of giving for the organization. Sandy Barbour was the first PowHER pledge donor, followed by Heather Lyke, Jean McDonnell, Jen Cohen, Grace Calhoun, Janet Judge, and Jen Heppel

In October, Women Leaders held the Women Leaders National Convention in New Orleans. Coming off a record-breaking Convention in 2022 in Kansas City, and Women Leaders topped the attendance record once again! Over 1300 attendees (400 first-time attendees) came together to celebrate the brand evolution to Women Leaders in Sports and connect with a vibrant community of Women Leaders. There were over 120 speakers and 50 hours of programming. Unique to New Orleans, attendees joined together in a “Second Line” parade to kick off the Welcome Reception. Another highlight was the Lunch with Leaders and Legends program, with 80 featured Leaders and Legends from the industry. A new session called Women Leaders CONNECT facilitated open conversations on industry and leadership topics. Women Leaders also announced the naming of the Sandy Barbour Nike FBS Division I Executive of the Year Award at Convention, made possible through the generous funding of Vicky Chun, Teresa Gould, Charmelle Green, Cary Groth, Lynn Holleran and Pam Borton, Katie Meier, Patti Phillips, and Lisa Stockton.

In addition, Women Leaders secured a record number of 65 institutional, conference and corporate sponsors in 2023. The support of these sponsors was critical to the growth and sustainability of Women Leaders, and it enabled the organization to continue to elevate the member experience throughout the year and at the National Convention.

2023 was a year of momentum for Women Leaders and its impact will only continue to grow in the new and more inclusive chapter as Women Leaders in Sports.

Notable successes for Women Leaders in 2023 included:

  • Increase in overall membership by 14%, resulting in the highest membership in organizational history with over 5,151 members and counting
  • 47 women were hired into the AD/Commissioner roles with 16 of those being women of color
  • 22% Increase in Group Memberships
  • The Women Leaders Podcast had over 24,000 unique downloads in 2023 – highest ever
  • Women Leaders social platforms reached over 38,000 accounts, with 3.2 million impressions
  • The ENGAGE Platform continues to deliver connection opportunities with 10,022 overall interactions
  • 2385 Career Connect profiles
  • Women Leaders sent 1325 member names to hirers for over 82 searches in 2023 using the Career Connect database
  • Hosted 69 Circle Calls with more than 1630 participants
  • Allocated 117 scholarships to members through the Foundation Fund, 64% of which went to women of color
  • Engaged over 1,300 individuals at the Women Leaders National Convention – This is a record-breaking number!

2021-2022 – Women Leaders in College Sports

2022 was a year to look back and reflect on where we are and look forward at where we need to go. Coming out of the pandemic, in-person events returned just in time to honor the 50th Anniversary of Title IX. We know the impact that those 37 words have had on all our lives, and as we remember the trailblazers before us who made it possible, we know there is more work to be done. Even with Title IX, this organization exists in large part because we’re not there yet. We must acknowledge that, but let it be the fuel and momentum that takes us where we want to go. In 2022, Women Leaders in College Sports and our members continued to move forward with openness for innovation and a steady focus on helping women in sports develop, connect, and advance in their careers.  

In April of ’22 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Women Leaders embarked on a complete brand takeover, from our blue and green Inspired Woman to PhoenIX Rising in reds and oranges. We transformed our brand in a powerful way to represent the unbelievable impact Title IX has had on women and women in sports. The PhoenIX Rising theme represented change and transformation. The organization celebrated progress in the industry and some of the many trailblazers who were catalysts for Title IX while also encouraging action by members to be a force for change in the next 50 years.

The Women Leaders brand and membership continues to grow and evolve. Women Leaders leaned into the opportunity to support and engage with women in professional sports, deeply believing in the value of the connections between college athletics and pro sports as well as women’s leadership across industries. 11 women leaders making a difference in pro sports joined us at the Women Leaders National Convention, with pro sports teams a huge part of our local partnerships. The Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders, Kansas City Current, Sporting Kansas City, USA Basketball and the Kansas City Royals all played a part in supporting our organization in 2022. Women Leaders also worked with organizations like the NFL, LPGA and the Las Vegas Aces. 

It is my hope that we all remember “where we were” on the 50th Anniversary of Title IX and appreciate the tremendous progress so many female trailblazers have made since the inception of the law. Most importantly, think of “where we will be” ten, twenty and even fifty years from now and how much further headway can be made with today’s women leaders. This is possible because of the extraordinary organization we are all a part of, and the genuine relationships built within women leaders across our industry. I am inspired and honored to work with leaders who aspire to make a positive difference and continue to advance women leaders in college sports.” said President Heather Lyke. 

Women Leaders also enhanced existing programming and created new membership offerings in 2022. This past year our leadership Institutes provided valuable skills and insights for career advancement to over 200 women. Given the evolving and diverse membership, Women Leaders expanded their institutes to include women outside of the traditional college campus administrative role. Furthermore, the Institute for Administrative Advancement was renamed to the Institute of Advancement – an intentional decision to ensure the name did not limit access to only those in traditional administrative roles in higher education. The programming provided by Women Leaders helps women at all stages of their careers from rising stars to those searching for their seats at the top. 

Women Leaders partnered with the NCAA for the 6th annual President’s Search Firm Roundtable event, held virtually. This powerhouse virtual event included 50 senior-level women from all three NCAA divisions, 36% of whom were women of color. Connecting hirers and influencers with these talented and ready female leaders resulted in 24% of participants from last year’s event advancing into leadership roles. 

In October, Women Leaders held its Women Leaders National Convention in Kansas City. The convention provided inspiration, connection, rejuvenation, and growth for a RECORDBREAKING sell-out group of women, male champions, and corporate partners.  1200 attendees (300 first-time attendees) came together in Kansas City to celebrate the impact and progress of Title IX, and the women who blazed trails for us to follow. There were over 100 speakers and 50 hours of programming, with 93% of attendees saying they were extremely satisfied with their experience. One of the highlights of this past year was the Trailblazers of Title IX: Lunch with Legends at the Women Leaders National Convention. Over 50 Trailblazers were honored, and attendees engaged in impactful conversation with each of the women over lunch. 

Other notable successes for Women Leaders in 2021 included:  

  • Highest membership in organizational history with over 4600 members and counting! 
  • 27% increase in Division II and III institutional members since 2019  
  • 85% retention rate of members year over year 
  • Patti Phillips penned a “Call to Actionon the 50th Anniversary of Title IX 
  • The Women Leaders Podcast had over 26,000 unique downloads in 2022 
  • Developed and released the ENGAGE Platform – ENGAGE is a dynamic virtual community platform that will transform members’ ability to connect with one another. ENGAGE is a new place to meet, share resources, make connections and so much more! 
  • Over 1100 jobs posted on Career Connect and 2100 members with active profiles 
  • Women Leaders sent member names to hirers for over 47 searches in 2022 using the Career Connect database  
  • Women Leaders Performance Institute growth of 95% – Women Leaders did custom leadership training with organizations like the LPGA, JE Dunn, NFL, Populous, adidas and many more in 2022 
  • Hosted 40 Circle Calls with more than 810 participants  
  • Allocated 70 scholarships to members through the Foundation Fund, 47% of which went to women of color 
  • Launched the Pro Sports Circle and the Women in Color Circle. 
  • Engaged over 1,200 individuals at the Women Leaders National Convention – This is a record-breaking number!  

Women Leaders in College Sports Board Members 2021-22

Heather Lyke, President, University of Pittsburgh
Sandy Barbour, Past-President, Penn State University
Meg Stevens, President-Elect, Averett University
Joeleen Akin, Georgia Tech
Sarah Baumgartner, University of Texas
Keri Becker, Grand Valley State University
Janna Blais, Northwestern University (ex-officio, SWA Appointee on the NCAA DI Board of Directors)
Jill Bodensteiner, Saint Joseph’s University
Joni Comstock, NCAA (ex-officio)
Portia Hoeg, Centennial Conference
Lesley Irvine, Colorado College
Kelley Kish, Lake Erie College
Danette Leighton, Women’s Sports Foundation (Ex-Officio)
Gloria Nevarez, Mountain West Conference
Desiree Reed-Francois, University of Missouri
Diana Sabau, Big Ten Conference
Etienne Thomas, Winston Salem State University
Tracy Warren, Legal Counsel, Buchalter

Heather Lyke, University of Pittsburgh

As Director of Athletics, Heather Lyke leads a University of Pittsburgh Athletic Department that encompasses 19 intercollegiate sports programs with nearly 470 student-athletes who compete in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference. The department also oversees the Pitt Band and the University’s Cheer and Dance Teams.  

Since her arrival in March 2017, Lyke has dramatically reenergized Pitt Athletics, recruiting eight new head coaches and directing a dynamic rebrand of the University’s athletic marks and logos. She unveiled Pitt Studios, the department’s state-of-the-art broadcast production facilities that helped launch the ACC Network in August 2019. The facilities support the University’s first-ever broadcast and media studies curriculum. In January 2020, the department announced the launching of Victory Heights which is a transformative vision to significantly enhance the athletic facilities where 16 of our 19 teams live, learn and train. 

Before joining Pitt, Lyke served as vice president and director of athletics at Eastern Michigan University, where she led a department that sponsored 21 varsity sports. Under her leadership, the football program returned to a bowl game for the first time in 29 years. 

From 1998 to 2013, Lyke worked at The Ohio State University, where she oversaw 10 of the school’s 36 athletic programs and supervised the sports performance division, which included the strength and conditioning coaches, athletic training staff, sports medicine and sports psychology staff. 

During Lyke’s Ohio State tenure, the Big Ten Network tapped her expertise as a color analyst for softball telecasts from 2009 to 2013. 

Prior to her role at Ohio State, Lyke served at the University of Cincinnati as the assistant athletic director for compliance and senior woman administrator from 1996 to 1998. She began her career at the NCAA as an intern in the enforcement and student-athlete reinstatement department from 1995 to 1996. 

A native of Canton, Ohio, Lyke was a scholarship student-athlete at the University of Michigan, where she captained the Wolverines’ Big Ten champion softball team, lettered four years and became an All-Academic Big Ten honoree. 

Lyke holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Michigan and a Juris Doctor from the University of Akron School of Law. 

Sandy is a member of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee and in 2017, she was selected as one of the inaugural members of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s (USOC) Collegiate Sports Sustainability Think Tank.

In addition to her role as the director of athletics at Pitt, she has been selected to serve on three key boards. As a representative of the ACC, Lyke was selected to serve a four-year term on the NCAA Division I Council, the group responsible for the day-to-day decision making as well as shaping the future for all of Division I Athletics. She was also selected to serve on NACDA’s Executive Committee for a four-year term as well as the LEAD1 Board of Directors. In the Pittsburgh community, Lyke serves on the Hillman Cancer Center Board of Directors and P3R Board of Directors. 

She and David have three children: Elle, Sophie and Eli. 

Learn more about Heather in her episode of the Women Leaders Podcast.

World News

Image by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The largest crowd to witness a women’s sports event filled Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, as 92,003 fans watched the five-time NCAA champion Nebraska volleyball team beat Omaha 3-0.  –Micahel Voepel, ESPN

“I remember that like it was yesterday,” Nebraska coach John Cook said of that World Cup match. “It was so impactful seeing those women compete and their celebration afterward. It made a mark on women’s sports in this country. They showed what could be done.”

Image by the US Open

2023 US Open celebrates 50 years of equal prize money

“The USTA is incredibly proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of awarding equal prize money at this year’s US Open, and to honor Billie Jean King’s efforts to make this a reality,” Brian Hainline, USTA Chairman of the Board and President, said. “No individual has done more to secure equality for female athletes than Billie Jean King. Her impact goes far beyond the tennis court, and there is no better time to celebrate her legacy than on the anniversary of this historic milestone.”

Image by Alex Sinatra

2023 Women’s Final Four breaks All-Time Attendance Record and TV Viewership Record

It a sellout crowd for the LSU and Iowa matchup, at 19,482, but it set a Women’s March Madness all-time attendance record with 357,542 fans.–Alex Sinatra, College Sports Wire

Image by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

The National Women’s Soccer League secured a $240 million domestic broadcast deal with CBS, ESPN, Amazon and Scripps. This landmark deal is 40 times larger than the previous. — Paolo Confino/Fortune

“These partnerships fundamentally change the game for our league and the players who take the pitch each week,” said NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman. “On behalf of the NWSL, our owners and players, I want to commend CBS Sports, ESPN, Prime Video and Scripps for investing in our league and affirmatively declaring to the marketplace that this league is exciting, valuable, and important.”

Image by the Des Moines Register

Record-Setting Day for Women’s Basketball: WNBA Finals drew the highest gate receipt in league history and college basketball preseason game broke Women’s attendance record.

Title IX Enacted
Title IX Enacted

June 23, 2022, marked the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX. This federal civil rights law has been credited with profoundly changing education in the United States by barring sex discrimination in the nation’s schools. Title IX, along with other equity laws, helped to unlock access to educational and athletic opportunities, paving the way for inroads into historically male‐dominated professions, including athletics. Thirty-seven words allowed women to finally pursue athletic and academic opportunities at the next level, expanding gender equity nationwide for generations to come. 

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 

US Women’s Soccer – Equal Pay!
US Women’s Soccer – Equal Pay!

The U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams will be paid equally under a new deal. The U.S. Soccer Federation announced on in May, 2022, that it has reached a deal to pay the U.S. Men’s National Team and the U.S. Women’s National Team equally, eliminating a contentious pay gap that saw female players earning less. The new collective bargaining agreements will run through 2028 and include the “equalization” of World Cup prize money.