There’s a part of Debbie Yow the athletic director that’s still very much Debbie Yow the basketball coach, and for that reason she is hesitant to take too much of a victory lap in the wake of N.C. State’s unprecedented success in the fall season. In her mind, it’s just the end of the first quarter.
That said, the Wolfpack’s seventh-place finish in the fall Leafield Directors’ Cup standings – which measure success across all sports and are scrutinized closely by athletic directors, if not necessarily fans – was not only the best of any ACC school but the best in N.C. State history. All six sports reached the postseason, football finished ranked in the top 25 and volleyball won an NCAA tournament match for the first time.
And that doesn’t account for swimming or wrestling, both of which have become ACC and even national powerhouses since Yow arrived in the summer of 2010. An overall lack of competitiveness in non-revenue sports was one of the strongest criticisms of her predecessor, Lee Fowler, but that certainly is no longer the case at N.C. State, and that has been building for a while. The Wolfpack has improved its fall position four years in a row. Its 35th -place fall finish two years ago was its best since 2003. Its 12th-place finish last year was a new record, broken this fall.
Anytime there’s a first ever, I feel good about it. Because it’s the first time ever all our fall sports have gone to the postseason, I feel a great sense of pride what our coaches and athletes have achieved, yes, I do.
N.C. State athletic directory Debbie Yow
So whatever hesitation Yow may have in taking credit for what she considers to be an incomplete result is outweighed by her pride in what N.C. State did in the first semester.
“Anytime there’s a first ever, I feel good about it,” Yow said from Indianapolis, where she is attending the NCAA convention. “Because it’s the first time ever all of our fall sports have gone to the postseason, I feel a great sense of pride what our coaches and athletes have achieved, yes, I do.”
For rival fans and administrators at North Carolina and Duke, this will not seem like a big deal. Those schools have set the pace in Olympic sports for years, and not just in the ACC. They direct considerable resources toward sports like soccer and lacrosse, have dozens of NCAA trophies to show for it and take pride in that success. North Carolina has finished in the top-10 nationally in the final standings in four of the past five years and led the ACC in 18 of the past 23. Duke has eight top-15 finishes since 1998.
The ACC in general – Virginia and Wake Forest as well, notably – pushes hard across the board, not just in football and men’s basketball, the sports that bring in all the money and have the undivided attention of many athletic administrators. (And that’s not a criticism of the latter approach: it’s a smart and pragmatic way to do business in this money-grubbing era of college athletics.)
But that history of success hasn’t been the case at N.C. State, and being able to climb ahead of more accomplished non-revenue programs at Duke and UNC and Virginia and Wake Forest, for one season at least, is a significant milestone. It’s harder to move up that ladder in the ACC than just about anywhere other than the Pac-12, where Stanford is a Directors’ Cup dynasty.
“Living in another conference could be very different from that perspective,” Yow said. “On the other hand, that attracts a number of the best athletes in the country, just like basketball does.”
There are a few reasons for this success. Yow hasn’t hesitated to replace her own hires as needed – whether that be in men’s basketball or men’s soccer – and the collective success has created a culture of competitiveness among coaches. Some of it is less abstract: N.C. State uses a research service to look at other schools’ budgets and coaching contracts, and has leveraged that information to target where it can spend money with the most impact.
The investment in these sports may not represent a huge additional investment in terms of actual dollars, but it is in percentage terms. And it’s one of several ways N.C. State, for the first time, has caught up with its local rivals in the fall.
“Football and basketball come first. I can’t change that,” Yow said. “But they get it. They get it because they get some of the things they want. They can see we’re trying.”
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
LEGENDS OF THE FALL
N.C. State achieved its highest-ever ranking in the fall standings of the Learfield Directors' Cup, which measures success across all sports. The Wolfpack was seventh. North Carolina, which has led the ACC in the final standings in 18 of the past 23 years, was 15th, while Duke was 11th.
NC State fall standings
NC State final standings
Duke final standings
UNC final standings
SOURCE: NACDA, Learfield Directors' Cup