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Nine Questions about Title IX with Debbie Yow

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One of the most successful female Power 5 ADs talks about the 45th anniversary of Title IX.
By Tom McMillen, The LEAD1 Association, 6-29-17
Representing the athletic directors and programs of the universities of the Football Bowl Subdivision, The LEAD1 Association takes great pride in commemorating the 45th anniversary of Title IX with an interview of Debbie Yow, Director of Athletics for North Carolina State University.

It was 45 years ago this week that Title IX was enacted into the law of the land, requiring equal funding for male and female sports among other mandates. LEAD1 also salutes its other female members for their success and professionalism as athletics directors that has been marked by an uncompromising quality and an unyielding dedication and devotion to their student-athletes and institutions of high learning: Sandy Barbour of Penn State University, Kathy Beauregard of Western Michigan University, Jennifer Cohen of the University of Washington, Desiree Reed-Francois of UNLV, Lynn Hickey of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Heather Lyke of the University of Pittsburgh, Judy Rose of the Charlotte 49ers, and Marie Tuite of San Jose State University. Their careers are testament to the mission statement of LEAD1, "Supporting the athletics directors of America's premier intercollegiate programs in preparing today's students to be tomorrow's leaders!"

Submitted for your reading pleasure is the following segment of The LEAD1 Experience, an interview series from LEAD1NATION!,

"Nine Questions about Title IX with Debbie Yow!"


1. LEAD1 took a great picture of a member athletic director hugging their players after winning the championship this year. What players and coaches have you hugged along the way in your storied career?

I have been blessed to have teams win 20 National Championships, so there has been a lot of fist bumps, high fives and hugs along the way.

That said, celebrating improvements in team outcomes and coach accolades also matters, even when not winning national championships.

This year, NC State had 5 ACC Coaches of the Year, tied with Va Tech for #1 among all 15 schools. We were 10th nationally in the number of draft picks for the NFL, NBA and NLB, also. So, we will celebrate at our August Coaches Meeting, likely with applause, high fives, fist bumps and a few hugs, as well as good food.


2. Patton called it the defining moment; Churchill termed it the sharp agate point upon which the preponderance of life's fate turns; Eminem raps in Lose Yourself that "you own it you better never let it go": When was that critical juncture when you decided that sports administration would be your career, that you would "...own it...never let it go"?

When I interviewed to become an AD at Saint Louis University in the Summer of 1990, it occurred only because of a nomination from a Vice President at Saint Louis. She had attended a session where I was speaking for CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) on the Alumni Office and Athletics Department Working Relationship in Kansas City in May of 1990. After that conference, she returned to campus and nominated me, which I was unaware of until notified by the University.

A longtime SEC AD, who I respected, warned me not to interview.

He said "Hon, I read where you are a finalist for the Saint Louis job. You know I care about you and hate to see you be used. They will simply fill out the EEOC card that you were given consideration. Nobody in Division I is going to hire a female as their AD to supervise men's sports."

 And, so I came close to not flying to Saint Louis to interview.

My husband was concerned that I would allow what was said to influence me. He said, "Let me ask you 2 questions. One, have you ever considered yourself to be a token candidate? (I said "no".) And, two, why would you start now?" (I had no answer for why I would allow that to happen, so I decided to take the plunge and interview.) Glad I did, since the search committee, comprised of mostly men, selected me over the other 3 finalists.

I knew there was a point in time during the interview when it 'became real' and I could sense there was a match between them and me, but that is another story.


3. When you first started out sports administration in development for Florida in 1985, did any females in school ask about pursuing a career in sports administration? How about now, 45 years after Title IX was enacted into Federal law and nearly 3 decades after you became AD at Saint Louis University?

Bill Carr hired me at Florida, first as women's basketball coach, along with their SWA Marilyn Weiss, and two years later as the first-ever female fundraiser for the Gators.

Moving into administration was something I thought I might desire.

The invitation to do so came earlier than I wanted it to occur because I was only 35, with 8 years of Head coaching experience at Kentucky, ORU and Florida at the time. But I knew passing on the offer would be a risk because there was no guarantee there would be another offer as attractive later, so I made the transition to administration.

At that time, women simply were not ADs in Division I, so that was not a career goal.

Over the years, a greater number of females have asked me about potential routes to become an AD and I have spoken for 17 consecutive years at the LEAD1 annual seminar each Summer, to aspiring ADs.


4. Napoleon said the best company commanders, which has about 120 soldiers, make the worst battalion commanders, which has about 1200 soldiers as a different leadership style is required. What does Debbie Yow realize about college sports administration as the athletic director of NC State in 2017 that she did not starting out as an administrator and fundraiser at U of Florida in 1985?

As a coach, I had considerable flexibility and autonomy in decision making.

As examples, I chose my assistant coaches, recruits, out of conference games, and offenses and defenses. (For me, Triple Post was the offense of choice, thanks to it's creators, Pete Newell and Tex Winter. Match up zones were favored for defense, especially the 1-2-2 match up.)

However, as a new administrator, I was surprised by the level of politics involved in moving forward an agenda.

That has only become more complex over the decades and is part of the work I do not gravitate toward, although it is necessary.


5. There is no doubt that college athletes are treated the best in history. You played college ball in pre-Title IX days. How are today's players treated better than you were before Title IX was enacted?

I was a pre and post Title IX athlete, from 1971-1974.

The first female athlete I knew who was awarded a scholarship was my younger sister, Susan, the first All American in any women's sport for NC State.

Title IX is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed and has literally changed the lives of millions of women for the better in every non traditional field of work, not just athletics.


6. Albert Hirschman, the economist, postulates that all accomplishments are based on illusions as people would not try anything new if they realized the difficulty.  You have had to constantly move in your career at posts at Kentucky, Oral Roberts, Florida, St Louis, Maryland, and now NC State. In one brief period, 1980 to 1985, you were at Kentucky, Oral Roberts, and Florida. Did you know that the road to The Chair would be so demanding, in every meaning of the word?

Well, I had two separate careers, one as a coach and one as an administrator, so I consider them separately.

In so far as the administrative tract goes, you missed one stop, at UNCG, between Florida and Saint Louis. I worked for Nelson Bobb as he was trying to move their program from Division III to Division I, an enormous task that he embraced and successfully completed.

In regards to how hard it was to advance in administration, it matters that a person is willing to take a tough job and make it better. Waiting for the perfect job will only paralyze you. Get moving. Accept the challenges. Learn and prove yourself.

Good things will follow. I promise.


7. What is your greatest accomplishment? Do you think it would have been possible without Title IX?

I have a couple of favorite projects that resulted in benefits for athletes, like working with the NCAA staff to change how individuals were selected for the NCAA wrestling tournament to best ensure all conferences that sponsored teams would have a fair opportunity to compete.

Joni Comstock of the NCAA was really helpful and I had support from the head of the Wrestling Coaches Association, Mike Moyer. Another favorite assignment was serving on the President's Title IX Commission in 2002 and attending town hall meetings across the nation to discuss the value of athletics for women.


8. That was a short question: now for the long one with 3 parts. Many believe that Title IX applies only to sports, but there were 10 key areas overall, including career education, learning environment, and math and sciences, among others. In the 2016 Center for World University Rankings, the top three were American, as were 7 of the top 10, with 2 of the top 7 being LEAD1 members: Stanford & Cal-Berkeley.

Do you think these high rankings would have been possible without Title IX improving US schools in those 10 areas?

Pretty important question here.

I believe that offering women opportunities will always strengthen the fabric of a university in the same way I think that about having a diverse population ethnically also strengthens the school.

 In that regard, how does athletics contribute to the overall vitality of a school?

Athletics is a catalyst for development of esprit d'corps among alums and friends of the university.

What other university event attracts 60,000 thousand people or more to campus for the shared experience of cheering on the football team, as an example? While the numbers in attendance are smaller for other sports, the spirit of togetherness is always present and that is special and something to be cherished.

About this, Dr. James P. Clements, President of Clemson University, stated "People are happier. People feel good. That allows me to recruit more students, raise more money and spread the message of the good news of the rest of the institution: academics and research, facilities. It goes a long way. And also the fact we do it the right way. Our student-athletes graduate and I would argue we have the best coach in the country because he teaches them so much about life. It’s a winning formula."

Do you agree with Dr Clements about this "winning formula" that Title IX has helped create at American universities?

His description is referencing the best of this experience, so of course I agree.

I have known Dr. Clement for years and have the highest possible regard for him. We also know that constant vigilance is required by all of us to avoid having a systemic issue related to cheating of some kind, because people love to win. And not everyone is concerned about following the rules.


9. There is a great deal of concern that if college athletes are to be paid it will destroy the gains from Title IX.  Can the good that Title IX, indeed college sports overall, has achieved be able to survive the costs of having to pay athletes?

Things are now changing rapidly as related to what amenities can be provided to athletes, starting with food legislation, cost of attendance stipends, travel to bowls by families and travel for families on recruiting visits.

I know we squeeze value out of every dollar here at State.

If considering the entire population of schools in Division I and II being able to legally "pay" athletes, my conclusion today would be that sports get dropped to be able to do that. However, to the best of my knowledge, the Office of Civil Rights does not consider revenue production to be a reason to provide tangible benefits only to those revenue-producing sports, which would mean across the board payments to all athletes would be required. There would be other ways to monetarily assist athletes, like an ability for any of them to use their name, image or likeness to earn revenue.


*Now for the bonus round! Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, said in a recent interview that his secret pride was being so good with a lacrosse stock that no one could tell if he was a natural righty or lefty. Just as Picasso said that every portrait is a self-portrait, what is that unknown talent or secret accomplishment that reveals the most about you, your talents cache, if you will?

Most of my exploits in music, as an example, have ended in failure/lack of enthusiasm.

Piano lessons for 3 years, clarinet lessons, too.

Then there were voice lessons. I just wanted to get back to the blacktop to play basketball, so my Mom finally gave up and cheered me on as the years went by. She, my sisters Kay and Susan and I all played basketball in the same high school gym, something rare these days, I would suspect.

Unknown Talent?

Hmm...probably what is called throughout the Southeastern Coast of the USA as "shag dancing". Google it. A great tradition here, good camaraderie and exercise.

This article has been reprinted on Clips with the permission of LEAD1

The LEAD1 Association represents the athletic directors, the programs, and the student-athletes of the 129 universities which comprise the NCAA Division 1 Football Subdivision. Key to the LEAD1 mission are influencing how the rules of college sports are enacted and implemented, advocating for the future of college athletics and providing various services to the members. 

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