Women’s History Month: Celebrating Missy Conboy
Spry is thrilled to celebrate the many successful women in the sports industry. We are proud to work with many of these women and can’t wait to share their stories and successes with you.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Missy Conboy, Senior Deputy AD at the University of Notre Dame. Missy has been a steady hand within the Notre Dame Athletic Department for almost 35 years. Below, please read a summary of our conversation, with answers written and provided by Missy.
Below is a summary of our conversation.
A brief history of Missy’s life and career:
I grew up as an “army brat”, moving often during my childhood. We lived on a number of military bases both in this country and in Germany, including assignments in Stuttgart, Heidelberg and West Berlin. I was the third of four daughters, and my two older sisters really didn’t have the same opportunities that I had to compete in either high school or college athletics. For me, sports were a way to quickly engage in a new community and to form instant friendships. I graduated from Heidelberg American High School and enrolled at the University of Notre Dame at a time when coeducation was still a new phenomenon. I was a basketball student-athlete all four years, and captained the team my senior year. Interestingly, my timing afforded me the opportunity to participate in AIAW Division III athletics my first two years, before Notre Dame transitioned to NCAA Division I athletics for my junior and senior years. Needless to say, it was a major transition and signaled a much larger commitment to women’s athletics to come. Following graduation, I attended the University of Kansas Law School, and after earning my JD, joined the NCAA Enforcement Staff as an investigator. A chance encounter with Gene Corrigan, then Athletic Director at Notre Dame brought me back to Notre Dame. What I initially envisioned as a two to three-year stint resulted in a career in South Bend that has spanned almost 35 years. During that time, I am fortunate to have worked under four wonderfully different athletic directors (Dick Rosenthal, Mike Wadsworth, Kevin White, and Jack Swarbrick), each of whom have afforded me the opportunity to diversify my work portfolio and take on new and exciting challenges. My husband, a Naval Academy graduate, is also a Notre Dame MBA grad, and all three of our daughters have degrees from Notre Dame (two undergraduate and one graduate). Given my nomadic upbringing, no one is more surprised than I am that I have stayed in one place for so long.
What inspired you to want to pursue a career in intercollegiate athletics?
When I was in college, no one really discussed athletics administration as a career option. I was an English major, and when I decided to attend law school, I had no intention or goal of using my law degree as a springboard to a career in athletics. The dean of the law school used to join a lunchtime basketball game with some law students. He casually mentioned that he had contacts at the NCAA national office and that they were looking to hire lawyers in a couple of departments. Enforcement had an opening, and their focus at that time was to hire lawyers who had played college sports. There was also a push to add gender diversity, as there was only one female investigator on the NCAA staff. It seemed like a natural fit. During my time at the NCAA, I became reacquainted with Gene Corrigan, who was looking to set up a compliance department at Notre Dame. It seemed like a great opportunity to return to my alma mater and to learn the business from one of the giants in the industry. Unfortunately for me, Gene was tabbed as the next ACC Commissioner before I even arrived back on campus, but his successor, Dick Rosenthal, quickly became a tremendous mentor and friend.
Were you a collegiate athlete? A high school athlete?
My first taste of organized competition was in about 6th grade, and my dad was my first basketball coach. I competed in multiple sports in both junior high and high school (volleyball, basketball and track) but basketball was always my passion. We moved from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to Heidelberg, Germany before my senior year, so I got the chance to play in two very different environments. I reached out to Notre Dame about my interest in being a part of the women’s basketball program, and was directed to fall tryouts. The program had only achieved varsity status the previous year, so it was still going through growing pains. Everyone on the team had made an application to the university without knowing whether they would be part of the basketball program. During my first two years, we had part-time coaches, traveled primarily by van, and had to wait for the men to finish practice before we got on the court. Before my junior year, the university committed twelve full scholarships to the women’s program, hired full-time coaches, and began to play a Division 1 schedule. I encountered two distinct experiences during my intercollegiate career as a result of this transition.
Who were your role models growing up? In sports, in business?
With regard to sports role models, I lived in Kansas for part of high school, and I had the chance to follow Lynnette Woodard’s incredible basketball career at the University of Kansas. She later became an Olympian and the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters. I also remember following Anne Meyers at UCLA, and Delta State legend Lucy Harris. I also had a number of favorite men’s players, including Rich Branning (Notre Dame), Jim Spanarkal (Duke), and Mike O’Koren (North Carolina). Needless to say, there weren’t many opportunities to watch women’s college basketball on TV at that time. Outside of sport, my career role model was my dad, Joe Conboy. He was a JAG officer in the Army, and as the father of four daughters, an early and active supporter of Title IX. I vividly remember him advocating for equal practice time for the high school girls’ teams both in Kansas and in Heidelberg, setting the tone for the importance of men advocating for women’s opportunities.
If you could share one bit of advice with tomorrow’s future leaders, what would it be?
Practice using your voice early on issues that are meaningful to you. Value diverse perspectives, and engage in civil discourse. Look to build consensus whenever possible, but don’t be afraid to chart a new course when necessary.
The best piece of advice you’ve ever received was?
There are so many to choose from, but I would have to say: Done is better than perfect. There are so many tasks competing for your time in this profession, and you can’t be paralyzed by perfection or the hope that tasks will get easier by delaying them. Having a working spouse, raising three children (and a couple dogs), and caring for aging parents doesn’t afford you the luxury of aiming for perfection.
Finish the sentence, “The best part of my job is….”
The best part of my job is the opportunity to develop meaningful connections.
I have always considered myself a “connector”, and this profession has afforded me the opportunity to put that skill to work often. I am awed by the sheer number of opportunities in my career to connect with students, student-athletes, faculty, staff, alumni, benefactors, and community/industry leaders. Whether it is writing graduate school/job recommendations, mentoring students/administrators/coaches, serving on institutional/industry committees, speaking at alumni events, serving as a guest lecturer, or stewarding benefactors, I’ve tried to make meaningful connections to positively impact the lives of others and the university I love. Needless to say, I (and my family) have been positively impacted in the process.
My favorite flavor of ice cream is:
Chocolate Peanut Butter
Read the next article in Spry’s Women’s History Month series: Celebrating Amy Perko, CEO of the Knight Commission