Industry Leaders

Women’s History Month: Celebrating Val Ackerman

vackerman spry women history month

Spry is thrilled to celebrate the many successful women in the sport 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 Val Ackerman, Commissioner of the Big East Conference. Valerie is a sports executive, former lawyer, and former basketball player. She is known for being the first president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, serving from 1996 to 2005. 


What prompted you to work in athletics?

As an athlete herself, and because of her positive experiences around sports Val had a natural interest in athletics. Her father and grandfather were both high school Athletic Directors and athletes and she looked up to them as role models, often tagging along to sporting events with them.  But, according to Val, one of the biggest attractions to the  sports industry was that it seemed like a people business, which was very exciting.

Who are your Role Models?

As mentioned above, both Val’s father and grandfather were influential in her life. Additionally, her mother was a huge influence on Val.  She was a working mom when that wasn’t very common, and showed Val that it was possible to juggle raising kids and having a career.

Val had female athletes that she looked up to.  They were mostly tennis players and Olympics because those were the only female athletes shown on TV.  These influential women included; Billie Jean King, Peggy Fleming and Olga Korbut.

In her career, Val had many influential mentors who took her under their wing and taught her about the sports industry.  David Stern, Dave Gavit, founder of the Big East and Pam Summit, a coach not executive because there were not many female executives all played an important part in Val’s development.

What advice do you have for future leaders?

Val easily told us how her work ethic made her journey in the sports industry possible.  She is an extremely hard worker and encourages others to be the same.  Val said,  “If you want to be successful, there is always an extra mile to cover. And, knowing that going into any job or situation is important.”  She continues to say that individuals have to understand that others will work harder and there is no substitute for preparation, so work your butt off. She also mentions:

  • Competency – be good at what you do and know what you’re talking about
  • People skills matter – in every business especially in sports
  • Relationships last for decades 
  • Reputation is built on reliability and your ability to see both sides of an argument and understand human emotion. 
  • Sports are based on passion and emotion, it’s important to understand other people’s emotion.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

Val mentions that she has received a lot of great advice throughout her career, but she always remembers when David Stern said, “micro-management is underrated”.  Val explained that he meant, the details matter and as a leader you have to know when to jump into the weeds and help your team manage the small details and when to trust your team to do the work.  In her own work, “managing details could make something bad turn out to be something good and something good turnout great.” 

Please fill in the blank,  The best part of my job is – 

“The people. It’s a people intensive industry and success and satisfaction ride on relationships with the people who you work for, with and for you.” Val looked back at the past 2 years that our world was dealing with a global pandemic.  She explained how she worked to ensure that connections stayed strong during those extraordinary times – when no one had a playbook.  That time period tested relationships and it was hard.

Favorite Ice Cream 

Jersey Shore – Rum Raisin Ice Cream or anything dark chocolate


Read the next article in Spry’s Women’s History Month series: Celebrating Kirsten Elleby, the Deputy Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator at Syracuse University.

Lyle Adams


Lyle was a member of the 2007 NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship team at Wake Forest. After embarking on a professional soccer career, Lyle transitioned to the tech industry, where he was one of the first 100 employees at Uber, designing platforms and tools for data consumers. Lyle also holds a Master’s in Sports Management from Columbia University.