Chancellor Henry Yang congratulates UCSB’s new Athletic Director Kelly Barsky | Credit: Jeffrey Liang

Like any woman who has found success in a male dominated profession, Kelly Barsky has proven to be a pioneer worthy of admiration.

Barsky’s ascent from an assistant of former UCSB women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb in 2008 to last week’s appointment as permanent Director of Athletics has been a winding road, but according to Barsky, she has been grounded in a focus on serving student athletes, serving the campus, and serving the community. 

“My journey is certainly a bunch of zig zags, not a straight line,” Barsky said. “I’ve always been rooted in education and mentorship and the belief that being in academia impacts and changes lives.”

UCSB’s new Athletic Director Kelly Barsky | Credit: Jeffrey Liang

Since the inception of Title IX over 50 years ago, women have had increased opportunities to pursue athletics at the collegiate level. Barsky herself was a beneficiary, playing point guard on the Keene College women’s basketball team, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and elementary education while racking up the second most assists in program history.

After spending time as an elementary school teacher, Barsky went on to become a graduate assistant at University of New Hampshire where she first met Gottlieb, who was an assistant coach at the time.

 Barsky relished the opportunity to work with collegiate student athletes.

“Throughout my career I’ve always been rooted in the belief in serving student athletes,” Barsky said. “Using education, mentorship, relationships and connections as tools to hopefully impact and help others in finding their passion and their inspiration and supporting their own personal journeys.”

Immediately before moving to Santa Barbara, Barsky was an assistant women’s basketball coach at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York under head coach Brenda Milano. She served as a recruiting coordinator and was primarily responsible for guard development, scouting opponents, and monitoring student-athletes’ academic progress. 

Meanwhile Barsky and Gottlieb stayed in touch, and when Gottlieb was hired as UCSB’s head women’s basketball coach in 2008 she reached out to Barsky to join her staff.

“I was really excited about what a legacy program I was joining and what a great history and community support UCSB had,” Barsky said. “So to come out and be a part of the women’s basketball team, program, and community was really something special to me.”

Sign up for Indy Today to receive fresh news from, in your inbox, every morning.

After three seasons at UCSB, Gottlieb moved on to become the head coach at UC Berkeley later becoming the first NCAA Women’s head coach to be hired by an NBA team in 2019, as part of John Beilein’s staff with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Meanwhile Barsky transitioned to an academic advisor role in the College of Letters and Science, Division of Undergraduate Education.  

“Entering UCSB as a basketball coach I never expected to move up and ascend to be the director of athletics, but what I always knew is that I would be working in roles that support mentorship and education and serving students,” Barsky said. “Having the opportunity to move into the college of letters and science and work as an academic advisor was really momentous for me. Having the opportunity to serve the campus in a different way, not just student athletes, but students, staff, and faculty on our campus.”

Barsky was eventually offered a role to come back to the athletic department as the Deputy Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator. She provided strategic leadership to the department and oversaw all internal operations while building strong campus and community collaborations to support student-athlete experience and well-being.

In addition, Barsky is The Big West’s liaison for the NCAA Division I Council and is a member of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee.

Despite all of the advancement that has been made in leveling the playing field for women in athletics since Title IX was adopted, the upper echelon of Division I athletic departments are disproportionately dominated by men. 

Recent research by  Women’s Leadership in College Sports in partnership with Arizona State University Law Program found that only 15% of NCAA Division I Athletic departments had female athletic directors. Those statistics juxtaposed with the fact that nearly half of NCAA Division I athletes are women paints a startling picture of inequality.

Asked about closing the gap, Barsky said, “I think it starts with having these conversations and creating awareness. I’m inspired by so many individuals that are out there publicly and on social media creating awareness and creating systems to help individuals — whether its females or underrepresented minorities — grow into roles of leadership.”

Well-equipped for her role as a trailblazer, Barsky joins UC Irvine’s Paula Smith as one of two female athletic directors among the Big West Conference’s 12 member institutions.

“We are so proud and so pleased to (introduce) the first woman ever to serve as Athletics Director for the Gaucho athletics teams,” said UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang.

Support the Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or a single contribution.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.