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Sports à la Carte: Division I member institutions are expected to be nationally competitive, to offer broad-based participation opportunities for men and women, and to be as economically self-sufficient as possible. But the modern reality might be that financial pressures to achieve competitive success are affecting institutional commitments to broad-based programming. Read more »
Editor's note: This is the second part in a story package examining Division I sport sponsorship. Read the main story here.
By Gary Brown
North Carolina State Athletics Director Debbie Yow’s philosophy about sports sponsorship is simple: Comply with the law.
Yow, who started the North Carolina State job in July after 16 years at Maryland, is a stickler for playing by the rules.
At Maryland – a school that had the first black football player in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the first black men’s basketball player and head coach in the league, and the first female faculty representative – the ACC’s first and only female AD wasn’t about to be the last to comply with Title IX. Her colleagues at North Carolina State should expect the same.
Maryland under Yow sponsored 27 sports – 15 women’s and 12 men’s, including football, of course, which adds complexity for any school trying to use the “safe harbor” proportionality prong of the three-part Title IX compliance test.
Maryland’s student population is 51 percent male, and Yow said she tried to come within a percentage point on either side for both genders in athletics. If the department didn’t, she required letters from the coaches explaining why they didn’t use all of their scholarships in a given year.
Of the 27 sports, only men’s track wasn’t fully funded. Yow said she couldn’t afford it unless the school added another women’s sport. But that’s the route Yow chose to take rather than drop men’s sports.
Maryland added two women’s sports within the last six years: competitive cheer, which is fully funded with 12 scholarships (Maryland is one of only a few Division I programs to offer competitive cheer at the varsity level) and water polo because of a successful club program.
“We added those sports and fully funded them so we could go back, legally, and add scholarships to our men’s teams,” Yow said.
Baseball was among the beneficiaries after not having been fully funded for years – and suffering accordingly. The Terp nine hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1971, but it was spared elimination during lean years.
“We didn’t want to drop a men’s team. We wanted to enhance them, but we couldn’t do that unless we were also enhancing the women’s program to comply with federal law,” Yow said.
Yow came to Maryland in 1994 a couple of years after the school had been investigated for Title IX violations, and she vowed such a problem would not happen again. She had personal experience driving her philosophy. She was a college athlete at Elon when there were no athletics grants-in-aid for women. Yow played basketball along with her younger sister, Susan, under the tutelage of her other sister – the legendary Kay – before Kay went on to North Carolina State.
Debbie remembers the day Kay walked into the locker room with hand-me-down warm-ups from the wrestling team (the wrestlers had gotten new ones). Though they didn’t fit well and still carried a musty odor (“We didn’t have the kind of detergents then as we do today,” Yow noted), the basketball players treated them as prized possessions.
She also remembers boxed lunches on the way to play at Appalachian State, checking into a dorm there and being handed sheets for the overnight stay.
“Participating in college athletics is an extraordinary opportunity,” Yow said. “Many of the skills that I learned started there – confidence-building, teamwork, discipline and all the other traits people talk about when they refer to what athletics teaches. Those characteristics you learn are so important that there aren’t even words to describe it. So, yes, I have a passion for young men and women participating in athletics because it changes their lives – forever. And we’re going to do that to the best of our ability.”
To Yow, then, it’s not about whether the participation itself or the quality of the participation carries the day.
“Who says we have that choice?” she said. “Our choice is to comply with federal law. We’re not looking for ways to get around the law. We’re looking for ways to meet the law and not damage our men’s programs.”