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June 3, 2014

Debbie Yow Q&A, part I

With the exceptions of a few track and field athletes set to compete in the NCAA Championships, NC State has closed its book on the 2013-14 calendar sports year.

NC State's men's and women's basketball squads exceeded expectations by reaching their respective NCAA Tournaments, and six different non-revenue squads finished in the top final top 25, highlighted by women's golf's 10th-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Men's basketball's third straight NCAA appearance put them in rare company. Just 6.5 percent of the 351 NCAA Division I programs have done that.

Individually, heavyweight wrestler Nick Gwiazdowski won a national championship, basketball sophomore forward T.J. Warren was selected the ACC Player of the Year after surpassing David Thompson's single-season school scoring record, senior Andrew Colley was named the Men's Cross Country Performer of the Year after winning the conference title and first-year women's basketball coach Wes Moore was honored as the league's Coach of the Year and a finalist for National Coach of the Year.

Wolfpack Director of Athletics Debbie Yow sat down with The Wolfpacker Monday for an extensive interview to discuss the year as well as other issues lingering at NC State, within the ACC and across the NCAA.

Here is part I of that interview.

What were your thoughts on the past year athletically and competitively-speaking?

"I told our staff from day one that reaching a top 25 status as a program is mercurial in nature, so they all are using the word mercurial now when they talk to me. They've looked it up.

"Progress is never linear year-to-year. There will be times where we take a step back to take two steps forward. Obviously we have big challenges in football. I was very proud that men's basketball went back to the NCAA Tournament. Only 7.1 percent of all the Division I teams in the nation took both their men's and their women's programs to the NCAA Tournament. That's a small percentage. So it's a mix.

"Baseball started preseason rank top 10, and we didn't go to the tournament. Obviously I am not going to try to sugarcoat what that looks like, and we're going work with Coach [Elliott] Avent to try to figure out if there is anything else we can do to better support his efforts and those of his staff to get us back on track.

"We don't know where we are going to finish in the Director's Cup, but we anticipate it won't be as high as last year. We're at No. 32 right now, finished at No. 34 last year but there are several sports still out. We could score some points in track and field for the men and the women, but we don't sponsor lacrosse for the men or lacrosse for the women, so we can't score there and we know we didn't score in baseball. We do get a few points in softball."

A few sports get lost outside of the big four of football, men's and women's basketball and baseball that everyone talks about, but there were some success stories.

"Swimming had a first ever, first time ever in the history of the program that both the men and the women finished in the final rankings in top 20 in the country. I can't imagine anybody expecting [wrestling] Coach [Pat] Popolizio to do more than what he's done in such a short period of time and Nick [Gwiazdowksi] transferring in and winning the heavyweight division in the NCAA.

"We are just going to see more of that in the future because his recruiting is off the charts. When Reynolds is renovated, he's going to have a magnificent space to showcase wrestling and it will be a pit for visiting teams when they come in, lot of energy in that building.

"Women's golf, wow that was pretty special for us to finish No. 10 in the country, and softball upset Georgia in the NCAA Tournament. Again, when you have the right coaches in place, it's just a matter of time and continuing to provide the resources that they need."

New hire made in women's tennis in Simon Earnshaw. What were your thoughts on how that process played out?

"We wanted to hire someone who had a great track record. Nobody in the pool of candidates had achieved at the level Simon had achieved at. Simon's reputation as a coach is such that Division I programs don't want to play his teams in the fall because they are just fearful they are going to lose. That will bode well for us.

"He's a guy who has waited for the right opportunity, just as Wes Moore waited for the right opportunity. We're it, this is it for both of those men. They are going to do great things for us."

One popular topic of conversation this spring has been the football schedule this year and going forward. Can you discuss how those schedules came about.

"It's complex. Presbyterian and South Florida were contracts I inherited. The other two [Georgia Southern and Old Dominion] we created to give our team a chance. We have [74] freshmen and sophomores on this team and a new quarterback coming off of zero wins in the ACC and a very challenging season obviously for our fans but also our coaches and student-athletes.

"They need some wiggle room early in the year for a couple of years to do be able to run different schemes and also work different combinations of players without fear they are going to lose the game when they do that.

"The fact that we are young, that we have a new quarterback, all of that plays into that. Now that we decided to play a power conference opponent every year starting in '17, that takes care of a lot of things. It's eight ACC and one power conference.

"What gets lost in all of this is we happen to be in the division with FSU, Clemson and Louisville. They all three finished in the Associated Press final top 15, and they are not going to take their foot off the gas. That's a different world than being in the Coastal Division. So we have built-in competitive elements in our conference schedule already. Then we have UNC. Every third year we have East Carolina, which for us is a very meaningful and emotional game.

"We'll play Notre Dame in '16, so we'll start adding the equity, power conference team with Notre Dame in 16, we won't wait until '17. Then we have an SEC school that we are close to signing a contract with, with a million-dollar buyout. I didn't schedule the LSU contract [that LSU brought out]. Those terms were already signed, sealed and delivered. The next one will have a million-dollar buyout to better insure that it will get played. We will probably in the next month be able to announce that.

"We're always going to play an FCS school, we always are, and we are going to play preferably them the first game of the season for the reasons I already outlined, and then we could play one or even two Division I teams that are not in the power five. Then we'll have nine that are very challenging with the focus being Florida State, Clemson and Louisville. We always have a crossover opponent in the Coastal Division as well. Soon it's going to be Virginia Tech.

"I think that's enough. We might get to the point, if we do terrific, where we worry about being one of the four teams in the playoffs, we'll worry about schedule strength. Right now, I'm worried about getting back to bowls and signing great recruiting classes. Our ability to play FSU, Clemson and Louisville every year, although it's much tougher than it would be in the other division, is helpful to us in recruiting because great players want to know they are going to play that caliber of team every year."

There was some chitchat about waiving the rules over how you mandate your conference title game in football.

"That's still alive."

Would that potentially lead to some realignment in the divisions or even scrapping them? Would you be interested in that?

"I've always been interested in scrapping the divisions. I think we play Duke some crazy small amount of time. (Pack's next game against Duke is scheduled for 2020.) If you are in a true rotation, maintain your permanent partner, which we would want to do with UNC, but when you are going to play more schools in your conference it's going to feel more like a conference.

"We don't have any support for that in the Coastal Division, at all. They understand the imbalance right now in competitive equity, and they like the way it is."

It seems like it's settled on eight conference games. Do you feel like that has been put to rest?

"I voted for nine. I wanted nine. The vote for eight-plus-one was 8-to-6, it was very close. If there had been one more vote it wouldn't have happened. I've been I think consistent. I would have liked to have played nine ACC games without divisions. But that's not where we are.

"We are at eight-plus-one and in divisions. That won't change very easily."

There was some mention about Duke and NC State playing a non-conference game. Is that a possibility down the road?

"It is for us, but they have to want to do it as well."

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