The Wolfpacker's Debbie Yow interview, part II
In the Learfield Directors’ Cup, a yearly competition measures colleges’ success across all athletics, NC State was No. 89 the year before Yow arrived.
For the 2017-18 school year, it finished a program-best No. 15.
During Yow’s time, she started the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame, spearheaded a $35 million renovation of historic Reynolds Coliseum, oversaw the construction of the Close-King Indoor Practice Facility for football, and negotiated lucrative contracts with adidas and Learfield Sports for apparel and multimedia rights, respectively.
She has also hired a roster of coaches that have collectively made NC State nationally relevant in many sports where it was middle of the pack or bottom-feeders in the ACC before.
Yow sat down with The Wolfpacker for an extensive interview last week to reflect back on her time at the head of NC State athletics. Here is part II of highlights from that conversation.
What’s something about NC State that you’ve learned that maybe you didn’t know back when you were at Maryland?
“I underestimated, initially, the raw emotion and feelings the fan base has of being treated unfairly.
“The longer I was here the more I understood it, and I think that was one of the reasons I was particularly interested in defending NC State.
“There’s always two sides of a story, and sometimes only one side gets told. There’s the Karl Hess episode, when two of our basketball icons, Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta, were kicked out of a game for no reason. I did give both of them a Wolfpack Unlimited award.
“Once I understood how our fans felt, I saw it as my duty to defend NC State. I tried to do that. I was not close enough to it as Kay’s sister and Susan’s sister to really judge that effectively.
“I think that would be one thing.”
Why do you relate so well to NC State fans?
“I really like them a lot. I think they’ve gotten a bad rap as an unreasonable fan base. What they are is passionate. I would rather have that any day than a fan base that is disengaged and really not committed, and only shows up when you win big.
“If you write me something or you text me something or you call me and are cursing left and right, I’m not going to respond to you.
“If you are fairly reasonable and I can tell you are just in pain because we lost a game, whatever that game is, I am going to respond to you and try and give you hope.
“Sometimes people just want to know what we are doing. They want to know what I’m thinking, what I am getting ready to do.
“Even if they disagree with it, it’s a matter of respect to share with them. They deserve that and have earned that as far as I am concerned. I can’t share everything, but what I can is share where we are headed and at least how we are trying to get there."
What has it been like to take on the role of fighting for NC State whenever something pops up that isn’t in the Wolfpack’s favor?
“I consider it to be part of my job. My role is not to be the most popular AD or person in the ACC. I certainly like the idea of that, but I don’t like it to the point where I would sacrifice defending our program when I believe we’ve been wronged.
“I don’t yell at people or curse at people or call them names. I do defend us when I think we deserve it.
“Conversely, there are times where I don’t defend us. I’ll give an example. We wore jerseys with ‘STATE’ across them. Then we quit doing that and went to NC State.
“We’ve had a number of fans who say we need to go back to State. I told them that we are not going to do that because the brand of NC State is growing, and we want it to be national and International.
“We need to have the words NC State, because there are 51 schools in the NCAA that are called State. That decision wasn’t popular with everyone.
“I’m going to try and focus on things that really matter — like selection to the basketball tournament and officiating.”
How have you evolved on using Twitter?
“I have never said anything on Twitter that I couldn’t repeat or stand by. Sometimes fans from other schools become followers on a Twitter account, and that’s probably not a wise thing for them to do.
“If I say ‘We. Beat. Auburn,’ I’m encouraging our fans to remember we were a pretty good basketball team. We had some issues and weren’t perfect, but we did finish No. 33 in the NET and even better in the BPI, Sagarin and KenPom.com.
“It’s not about someone else, it’s about us. If you are one of us, then you get it. If you are not, you automatically assume it’s something else.
“The reason I didn’t go under my title or my name was that it was kind of a covert operation. It was designed to watch our student-athletes in terms of what they were tweeting.
“The reason that mattered to me was there was a time one of our athletes tweeted something about their health that was alarming to me. It was some version of ‘I might hurt myself.’
“I thought, ‘What can I do?’ The only thing that I could think of that I can do is to go on Twitter, become a follower and then have access to what they are saying.”
What are your major concerns about college athletics?
“I’m really concerned about gambling becoming legal. I spoke at Harvard Law School in early April. The man who spoke before me was an expert on gaming, as they call gambling. I was sitting there listening to him, realizing how ill-prepared we are for what this is going to be.
“When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gaming in college athletics, one of the caveats they had was that either Congress or the states could oversee gaming in college athletics.
“I assumed that Congress would want this because of the money involved. It’s obscene amounts of money.
“What I didn’t factor in was what this man noted. The problem with Congress taking over and having one set of rules for 50 states, which sounds a lot better to me than 50 states creating their own rules and regulations, is its members are elected by the people of their state.
“If Congress oversees the gaming, it means they voted to take the money out of their own state. This would create a concern about their ability to be re-elected.
“I never thought about it that way. I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, does that mean we are going to have 50 states with 50 sets of regulations? What does that look like and how do we manage that?’
“The question that keeps getting asked is — does making it legal mean there will be more gambling? Common sense will tell us that it does, because the activity was normalized.
“Once you normalize any activity there is going to be more of it, whether it is smoking weed, prostitution or gaming, because you just put the seal of approval on it.
“Amateurism is a big deal along with whether or not we ever pay players. But I’m more concerned about gaming right now because of what it could mean to college athletics. It’s an issue that needs to addressed effectively.”
Besides gambling, what are some of the challenges NC State is going to face after you’re gone?
“It will be the same challenges we’ve faced in the last nine years — money. There’s never enough money.
“Every year, except the year Maryland left the conference and we got a big, one-time boost in revenue from the ACC, has been a struggle for us administratively. It will continue until the ACC Network is pumping out big money, and that’s not likely to happen initially.
“But it will happen. It’s just getting to that point.
“Money has been an issue and will continue to be an issue. Personnel issues are always there. Those two things are consistent in my work. Almost every day has something to do with finances, something to do with personnel.
“It could be trying to keep Wes Moore here instead him of going to Tennessee.
“Do you wait or do you go ahead and do the best you can by Wes whether they ask or not — which is what our approach generally is. We’ll do the best we can. We will eventually roll something out. It’ll have to be approved by the Board of Trustees.
“It’s always finance and personnel, over and over and over, and every now then you get something in compliance. And facility improvements will never die.
“We need so badly to re-do the east side of Carter-Finley Stadium. It hasn’t been touched since 1966. And that can happen.
“There’s lots of things on the long list of what to do next, but I’m just not going to be the person doing it.
“Boo will decide his own priorities. That’s the other part of this. Because he has the responsibility of the work, he has the right to make those choices. It’ll be interesting to see what he decides he wants to do first in terms of facilities.
“We have a plan right now and a donor to bump out the wrestling room to make space for three mats. I feel good that we’ve been able to get that done.
“We are far down the road on building an outdoor pool, with the support of campus, for our swim team.
“We haven’t gotten to baseball yet, which needs help and always has. We’re still paying for the last improvements in baseball, which were done before I got here.
“There’s still a half-million dollar payment every year on the debt. That doesn’t end until 2024, but we still need to keep updating.
“We have to find donors who have the ability, the willingness and the interest to make leadership gifts. Boo is an external guy by experience, and I think that’s going to fit very nicely for him.”