Nov. 2, 2006
By Ken Kleppel
Through the eyes of perhaps no other administrator on campus can the growth of women's athletics be most brilliantly illustrated as from the perspective of deputy athletics director Missy Conboy.
Approaching twenty years of service to the Athletic Department, and the thirty-year mark since she first enrolled as a freshman in 1978, Conboy can now look back and smile.
"A lot has changed," admits Conboy. "But this is still Notre Dame. Watching the growth of our programs has been one of my most enjoyable experiences."
By both contribution and association, Conboy has been there through it all.
During her days as an undergraduate, the University elevated field hockey, volleyball, and swimming and diving to join tennis, fencing, and basketball as women's varsity sports. Since she was hired in 1987, Notre Dame added eight women's sports, the most recent being rowing in 1998. Today, the Athletic Department offers 26 varsity sports--symbolically, 13 female programs and 13 male programs.
The success of these teams is well-documented. Three programs--soccer, basketball, and fencing--have won national championships, accounting for seven of the University's 25 titles and the last six won by Notre Dame teams. Remarkably, 12 of these 13 squads, or representatives there from, participated in NCAA post-season competition during the 2005-06 academic year.
Despite Conboy's best efforts to shrug away the attention, her wide-ranging roles have certainly played a large part in this astounding growth.
On one hand, Conboy is an expert on gender equity issues. As a member of the University's General Equity Task Force, which is utilized to evaluate and monitor compliance with Title IX as it applies to intercollegiate athletics, Conboy reviews the annual proposed Athletic Department budget from a gender equity perspective, among other tasks.
On the other, she works closely with the five attorneys, legal assistant, and administrative staff in the General Counsel's Office to handle any and all legal issues facing the Athletic Department.
In between she travels across the country, or continents, with one of the four programs she has administrative responsibility over--volleyball, hockey, women's tennis, and rowing--or through her efforts as an active leader on various NCAA committees.
And somewhere on the circuit of UND Night speakers in all four corners of the country, one can listen to her presentation on the merits of the University, the state of the athletic department, or what it truly means to be a member of the Notre Dame community.
Her message is loud and clear: "The University represents a vocation to me more than anything else. To have these fabulous mentors and role models for our children to interact with and have wonderful coaches and administrators who buy into what the University is doing means everything."
The way in which she personifies this vocation is remarkable, if not exhausting to say the least.
It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's . . . Missy Conboy?
The casting director of the next superhero movie may need to reconsider the selection for its lead character.
With all due respect to Hollywood, Conboy can play the role of heroine perfectly.
Armed with a law degree, Conboy abides by and enforces the rules. In twenty years of service as an athletic director, Conboy dedicates herself to the well-being of student-athletes while guiding Notre Dame in its exemplary compliance efforts. In 1987 she became the first assistant athletics director in charge of compliance in University history.
Conboy has extensive experience working in a uniform. As a forward on the basketball team from 1978 to 1982, Conboy captained the squad her senior year and played in 93 career games. She was awarded the Bob Scott Award for hustle and spirit at the end of her sophomore year.
While her method of transportation is not as trendy as the Batmobile, perhaps a Studebagels delivery truck can pass muster with casting. Conboy and her husband formed the Studebagels franchise in 1992 and together owned two shops in the South Bend area before selling the franchise in 2000.
Her marriage to husband Bill Mountford would comprise the dramatic love story. Mountford, a former Naval officer who captained head tennis coach Bobby Bayliss' team at the Naval Academy, met Conboy in the summer of 1989 while on campus visiting Bayliss. The couple has now been married fifteen years.
And she uses every last bit of her superhuman powers to care for her three daughters--Darby (age 13), Delaney (age 10), and Killian (age 7)--not to mention hundreds of student-athletes, 26 athletic programs, and dozens of coaches.
A lawyer, athletic director, small business owner, wife, and mother, Conboy amazingly finds a way to do it all.
"My parents taught me to always be adaptable," says Conboy. "There will always be a new experience and adventure around the corner."
The lesson was never forgotten.
As the daughter of an Army Judge Advocate General Office lawyer, the ability to adjust to new surroundings is second nature for Conboy. And the path of her travels as a youth--from Virginia to Georgia to New Jersey to Germany to New York to Washington D.C. to Kansas and back to Germany--ultimately led her to Notre Dame as a freshman in 1978.
Fortunately for Notre Dame, two of Conboy's most life-changing decisions were made on a basketball court--to one day attend the University and to embark on a career in collegiate athletics.
As a ten-year old in 1970, Conboy wore a Notre Dame t-shirt in a YMCA game and proudly exclaimed that she would attend the University--unaware that Notre Dame would not admit women until 1972. Twelve years after her bold proclamation the undeterred Conboy had a degree in hand and was off to law school at the University of Kansas. Then back to the hardcourt for another big decision.
During a lunch-time pick-up game while at law school, the dean suggested that Conboy apply for a position with the NCAA.
"It was the first time I realized I could possibly combine my legal background with a career in athletics," says Conboy. "Even though I became interested in the law because of my father, it was not until I went to law school that I thought I could work in athletics for a lifetime."
At the time the NCAA was seeking women, former student-athletes, and lawyers to serve as enforcement representatives. Conboy fit the bill perfectly.
Conboy joined the NCAA staff in 1985. As an enforcement representative, she investigated infraction reports and helped process cases for the NCAA's committee on infractions.
Her work caught the attention of former Athletic Director Gene Corrigan in 1987.
"That is how I got my start," says Conboy. "That helped me move back here."
A Woman of Many Roles in the Athletic Department
Following in the footsteps of Astrid Hotvedt and Sharon Petro as female administrators in the Athletic Department, Conboy was appointed assistant athletic director in the fall of 1987.
Hotvedt, who also served as the University's first female physical education instructor and coach of the first varsity field hockey team, was hired as a director of women's athletics in 1976. Petro was hired as an assistant athletic director in 1985 to serve in a variety of administrative duties for the women's varsity teams on campus, after serving as head coach for the women's tennis and women's basketball team.
Unlike Hotvedt and Petro, however, Conboy requested that she not work solely with women's athletics but rather that she be exposed to all sports. This request was granted by Corrigan as he avoided the trend in college athletics of hiring women directors to administer exclusively to women's sports.
In her first role as an assistant athletics director, Conboy joined Brian Boulac in overseeing the day-to-day operations of the non-revenue sports and coaches. Conboy also handled the compliance and certification area by serving as the University's liaison with the NCAA.
"Early on I had to push the envelope a lot more because it was a traditional male environment," says Conboy. "Now, support is unequivocally based on the needs of the student-athlete, albeit male or female. "
Over the course of the next two decades her responsibilities would quickly grow.
In 1992, Athletic Director Dick Rosenthal promoted Conboy to associate athletic director. That same year she was named to the NCAA's Legislative Review Committee, a five-member committee responsible for reviewing and refining legislative proposals and incorporating new legislation and interpretations into the NCAA manual, among other duties.
In his first re-shuffling of responsibilities in 2000, Athletic Director Kevin White assigned Conboy responsibility over business and legal affairs and the areas of equipment, medical, transportation, and student managers. Three years later these duties expanded to game management for all sports other than football.
Finally, in 2005, she was appointed to deputy athletics director for business and legal affairs. Today, she directs facility operations, human resources, and legal issues for Notre Dame athletics. She also negotiates contracts with adidas and serves the Board of Trustees as a member of its Athletic Affairs committee.
"I always strived to be the voice for student-athletes," says Conboy.
It is this dedication to student-athletes which makes Conboy's contributions so unique.
Beyond All Roles and Responsibilities--A Mentor and a Mother
Few may know Conboy as well as women's tennis coach Jay Louderback and volleyball coach Debbie Brown. Conboy has worked with both coaches for a combined 33 years--with Louderback since he took the helm in 1989 and with Brown since she started in 1990. It is no surprise, then, that their outlook is the most personal.
"Her biggest impact for me is that she cares about the kids on the team and takes the time to get to know them," says Louderback. "Our student-athletes really appreciate her. That is the part of her job that she really enjoys doing."
Likewise, Brown points to the exemplary manner in which Conboy is able to balance her profession and family.
"She is very easy to work with--understanding and compassionate," says Brown. "It is reassuring to know that she is committed to being a mother just as much as an administrator. She is a model in juggling a career in athletics and family."
If the next twenty years are anything like the last, the direction Conboy helps establish for the athletic department will be a bold one.
"All of us want to feel like we have touched as many lives as possible and send as many students as possible off to great starts in life and in their careers," says Conboy. "We need to be mentors and role models for our student-athletes. We cannot rely on our tradition and history but we need to continue to set the trend in a way that we can be proud of."
With a vocation like hers, anything is possible.