Buffs Legend Barry Spearheads Effort To Endow Women's Basketball Coaching Position
BOULDER — Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, the landmark legislation that essentially gave birth to women's intercollegiate sports programs across the nation.
Since then, women's sports have become firmly entrenched in the national landscape, producing a generation's worth of superstars and storylines.
But even after nearly five decades, women's college sports have yet to fully escape their reliance on the revenue produced by football and men's basketball.
Former University of Colorado women's coach and administrator Ceal Barry believes it is time to change that narrative. Women's sports must make the move from surviving to thriving — and Barry is determined to get the ball rolling.
Thus, she is starting the process of fully endowing the CU women's basketball head coaching position with a significant donation, with a goal of reaching $1 million.
"Philanthropy for women's sports is part of the solution. You never truly have a seat at the table until you become self-supporting," Barry said. "It's important that women give and get involved. We need to get past that perception that only our former male athletes are our donor base. We need to demonstrate that there is a potential revenue stream from our former women athletes, our women's coaches and women donors."
Barry is no doubt well-suited to speak on the topic. No one has had a bigger impact on women's sports at CU.
The winningest coach in Buffs history with 427 victories, she took the reins in 1983 and guided the program for 22 years. A four-time Big Eight Coach of the Year, Barry led Colorado to four regular season Big Eight titles, four Big Eight Tournament titles and one Big 12 tourney championship. The Buffs made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances in her tenure, reaching the Sweet 16 six times and the Elite Eight three times.
Those numbers led to her induction in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the CU Athletics Hall of Fame.
But Barry's legacy at CU is far more than numbers. She helped bring women's sports into the mainstream, making Colorado nationally relevant on an annual basis, and that influence helped CU build competitive programs in other women's sports.
After her coaching career, she turned her leadership skills to administration, serving as an associate athletic director and senior women's administrator (SWA) for 13 years, then the department's deputy athletic director for two years. Her guidance and steady hand helped the department navigate some of the most difficult waters in CU history.
Now, one year after retiring, she hopes the next chapter of her legacy will be that of inspiring supporters of women's athletics to speak up with their checkbooks.
"One of the areas I grew in as an administrator was understanding that when revenue production is so reliant on football and men's basketball, it damages the perception of women's sports," Barry said. "I would like to continue to lead in a way that models philanthropy for women, so that all of our athletes who eventually have the capacity can give back. Women's sports can be self-sustaining, but we need women and men to take a bigger, more active role in achieving that."
CU Chancellor Phillip DiStefano had a front-row seat to Barry's Colorado career. The endowment, he believes, is the perfect next step in a legacy that has already seen Barry stamp her career as a pioneer in women's sports, followed by a critical tenure as a senior athletic department administrator.
"There has been no more central and vital presence in CU athletics in the modern era than Ceal Barry," DiStefano said. "She is one of the truly great college basketball coaches of the last 40 years. She is one of the most thoughtful, influential and passionate athletic administrators CU Boulder has ever had — a team player in every respect, a mentor to student-athletes and coaches, and a trusted advisor to every CU athletic director of the last three decades. Ceal embodies the best of our values and achievements on and off the court, and her leadership in establishing this endowment continues that legacy."
When CU Athletic Director Rick George took the reins at Colorado in 2013, Barry was already on board in an administrative role (she actually served as the interim AD until George was hired). Her institutional knowledge of CU, the Pac-12 and the community were a great aid for George as he began setting the foundation for his vision for the Buffaloes.
"Ceal's knowledge and leadership were an invaluable asset to me since the day I became athletic director," George said. "She was a great friend, a confidant and someone I could depend on for sound advice in every situation. Her legacy at CU as a coach, administrator and a leader is imprinted firmly throughout the University of Colorado."
Now, Barry is ready to add to that legacy.
Her philanthropic pursuit has been inspired by two influential members of the CU community.
One, the late Dr. Joanne Arnold, was a longtime CU professor and administrator — and a fan of CU's women's hoops program. Arnold was not only impressed by Barry's teams' successes on the court, but also by their classroom achievements. (In Barry's 22 years, all but one of her players earned their degrees.)
That success is why Arnold created the Ceal Barry Scholarship in the CU School of Education in 1993, an honor Barry still treasures.
"That was my first personal introduction to the reality that philanthropy is not the exclusive domain of men," said Barry, who will match her gift to CU Athletics with an equal amount to the School of Education. "That inspired me."
Another inspiration for Barry has been LaJeune Austin, a CU graduate who has earned two master's degrees and carved out a successful career in finance. Austin became a fan of Barry's teams while attending CU, and has since become one of the biggest donors for CU's women's athletics.
"When I was the SWA, she was one of the most visible and involved donors we had," Barry said. "I could go to a volleyball match or a soccer game or a basketball game and she was always there. I draw inspiration from LaJeune and Joanne Arnold. When I finished working last year, I started thinking about these gifts and how they ultimately help students achieve their goals. I knew it was my turn to start giving back."
Barry originally wanted to keep her donation and endowment program private. But CU Director of Development Mackenzie Altman convinced her to go public.
"She told me, 'If you make this public, you can inspire other women to then become donors and create revenue,'" Barry said. "That, in turn, creates a more sustainable program."
Barry's gift has had an immediate impact, as it has already been matched with a significant donation from Amy Merten, another generous CU supporter.
Now, the ensuing campaign to fill the endowment comes at a critical juncture for CU. While the world is slowly returning to normal as the covid pandemic tide is turned, the financial impact of the pandemic on college athletic departments won't go away so quickly.
Endowments of coaching positions — already a staple at a handful of universities around the nation — will be a critical piece in helping sustain college athletics in the future.
"This is a crucial building block for the future of CU Athletics," George said. "Endowments such as this will be a big piece of the future for our Athletic Department. As we continue to ensure that we provide a world-class experience for every one of our student athletes, the ability to have our coaching positions endowed will help us turn even more resources directly to supporting our student-athletes in critical areas. It's great to see Ceal be a leader in yet another area so important to the Buffaloes."
Barry's goal is simple: to help women's sports move to the next level. From advertising revenue to sponsorships to opportunities for student-athletes in the name, image and likeness arena, women's sports are poised to find a spot on center stage.
"Rhetoric about women's sports being a ball and chain around the ankle of the athletics department holds back women's sports," she said. "Together we can change that narrative."
If you are interested in donating to the Ceal Barry Endowed Program Support Fund, please contact Mackenzie Altman at 303-492-9547 (Mackenzie.Altman@colorado.edu) or Scott McMichael at 303-492-5695 (Scott.McMichael@colorado.edu).