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Interview: Chris Plonsky Discusses Texas’ Plan For Bringing Sports Back

University of Texas women’s Athletic Director Chris Plonsky talks about Texas’ reasons for staying with the Big 12 athletic conference with 10 teams after last week’s departure of Nebraska and Colorado to the PAC-10. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)

Chris Plonsky is the Chief of Staff and Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director at the University of Texas. She previously served as the Women’s AD at Texas, and has worked in college athletics for over 40 years. Below, she spoke with Just Women’s Sports about how UT is working to come back, the importance of reviving college football, and what comes next. 

What is Texas’ plan for reopening? And how has the university handled going virtual? 

We’re hoping to bring back some of our athletes by July 1st. That is the plan, but it could change. We’ve been in online learning for a while now, like most campuses, and it has been a difficult adjustment. Texas is not one of those campuses that had a massive online course offering beforehand. We’re a real big, touchy-feely campus. I hate to say that, but we really are. The humanities and the personal presentation part of teaching here has been at the heart of our institution forever. I think it’s why our education is so good.

Kids are now digital natives so they’ve really managed it well. From a sports perspective, it’s been devastating mentally because it was so sudden. I think kids are more resilient than us old people, but our coaches, they’re almost stir-crazy. We have a coaches’ Zoom meeting once a week and they’re so pent up right now. They want to be able to do more. We hope there’s a way that some sort of normalcy can be approached. But it’s certainly going to be in waves because as we know, even with little baby openings, we’re not ready yet, and we won’t be for a while.

The state is starting to reopen. What are some of the sanitation measures that have been put in place? 

Starting on Monday, there were 30 essential football-related staff employees who were permitted to go back to work. At the front of our North End Zone, we have a screening station, and employees had to pre-submit a questionnaire. Do you have any symptoms? Have you been in contact? There’s temperature-taking, boom, right there done by two sports medicine personnel. You get a wristband if you pass muster, and then you go to your socially distanced area. You have to wear a mask. And it’s very likely when we have student athletes back, they’re going to probably have to wear a mask to work out.

So much of the national conversation revolves around whether football can come back. Could you explain why that sport is so important to the bigger picture? 

The economic driver for those of us in the Power Five conferences is football, and the donations, ticket purchases and television that are tied to football. Right now, we’re slashing budgets just like the other schools you read about. We haven’t spent much at all. We’ve turned off the spigots, except what we need to keep our kids on scholarship and people on payroll and services through remote means.

But we literally have to have that sustaining economic engine of football in some form. Even if it’s football with limited fans, or football on television only — can you imagine the TV ratings? We saw that the WNBA and the NFL virtual draft ratings were some of the highest ever. So we’re hoping and crossing our fingers.

If you sat in our coaches’ Zoom meeting with us Wednesday morning, you would have seen every coach from golf to volleyball to softball to baseball just saying, “We understand it. You guys have to prepare first to see if the football staff and students can return in graduated ways, at whatever time frame the leadership of local agencies, health agencies, and our conference set.” Because if we can keep people healthy, socially distanced with hygiene and sanitation practices in place, and if we can keep the football team healthy in whatever six week period they say they need to train before a season starts, then we will have a blueprint for the other sports. That’s sort of the Texas plan right now, if you will.

So if some type of adjusted football season happens, let’s say no fans, but broadcast money is there, do you guys think that’s enough to support the rest of the programs for the year?

It would be enough if we have some football, but it’s certainly going to be adjusted. Our non-conference schedules are likely to be continually adjusted as we lead towards September. Sports whose competitive seasons are in the spring but do a lot in the fall might have to sacrifice a squeeze in the fall in order to have their spring season. We’re already having schools call us to say they can’t travel to Austin in the fall. As we go forward, there might be a surprise a day.

We can regionalize. We’re lucky, because we’re in Texas, so most of our conference opponents are nearby. The beauty of conferences is you might keep your regular season schedule. It just might need to be compressed to save money. But being in a geographically proximate, busable location, as Texas is, could be really helpful in this COVID environment.

This is where you really find out about your culture and your fabric. You’ve got to plan for every extreme. We’re going to prepare for all possibilities, but we need to stay positive.

How would you describe the overall outlook of your group given the uncertainty surrounding the situation? 

I think there’s a fighter’s spirit in all of us that are involved in athletics. We’ve all learned to deal with adversity, because that’s what sports are about. We love to learn. We love to compete. And when you lose, you learn from losses and you recover to try to get ready for the next win. You know there’s going to be another opportunity. So trying to get this done and achieve in some fashion is where we’re going to start. And then we’ll face whatever comes to us and we’ll be ready for that.

At the heart of all of this is who we’re serving. We desperately want to give our student athletes, both men and women, the opportunity to represent our school and to compete. And to do anything less than that, it would be heart-wrenching for us and them.

At some point our national health experts are going to get their arms around this and they already are making incredible progress. The question is when and how. The tough part of this will be keeping ourselves self-sustaining. If certain avenues of revenue do not appear, the next natural thing will occur. And that I think is very applicable to what all athletic departments are going through right now. It’s collaborative, it’s transparent, it’s good communication, but it’s also very hopeful. And I think what we can count on is that we’ve got really creative, incredibly intense competitive minds here that care about young people.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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