On a cold, breezy day, the winds of change in college sports settled on Highland United Methodist Church, where the Raleigh Sports Club, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, secured N.C. State athletics director Debbie Yow as its weekly speaker Wednesday.
The RSC is one of those heartwarming anachronisms that still thrives, a group that gets together to eat lunch, exchange business cards and listen to a notable sports personality. Just about everyone in the Triangle sports scene ends up making an appearance at the lectern at some point – ADs, coaches, broadcasters and just about anyone else who has a hand in the games played around here. Yow even knew several of the Wolfpackers on a first-name basis.
The collective demographics tend to skew older, as one might expect of an institution that’s been around so long – several World War II veterans were recognized in the wake of Veterans Day – that so many members are of a generation that grew up at a time when college sports were played by students who also happened to be athletes, instead of the other way around as it too often is now.
That might be why Yow chose to make the challenge of NCAA reform the focus of her talk to an audience that might be particularly receptive to dialing back the excesses of modern-day college sports. Rarely has an athletics director been more openly optimistic about the prospect.
“I’ve seen a lot of conversations about change come and go,” Yow said. “This is one of the real ones. It’s nice. You know it when you see it, and this is real. We’re going to make some changes and simplify the structure somehow that makes more sense.”
Specifically, she meant the movement to change the NCAA from top to bottom, one that has gathered momentum lately and involves everything from taking some control away from university presidents and putting it in the hands of athletics directors and others, to rewriting the overwhelmingly arcane and complicated rule book.
Yow lumped concussion protocols into the mix as another area of potential national reform, and acknowledged the debate over how much of the billions generated by college athletics should go to players is not one that will be settled easily or soon. That was before she even got to the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, which is pursuing compensation for players for the use of their likenesses in video games and remains in litigation.
Yow said she recently represented the ACC during a conference call with the commissioners and one athletics director from each of the five Bowl Championship Series conferences, discussing NCAA restructuring. She came away more optimistic than ever.
“We’re going to get there this time,” Yow said. “I’m not sure if it’s going to take six months or nine months, but we’re going to get there and it’s going to be much better than what we have right now. People are going to find it to be more efficient and more effective.”
Of course, this wasn’t Yow’s first day on the job or first trip ’round the luncheon circuit. By keeping everyone focused on NCAA reform, she didn’t have to answer a single question about a basketball team picked to finish 10th in the ACC or a football team that’s 0-6 in the ACC.
Yet there’s hardly anything more important in college sports today than the new shape of the NCAA, and Yow made it perfectly clear she expects January’s NCAA convention in San Diego to be less of a cocktail party and more of a call to revolution, a gathering wind that blew right through the Raleigh Sports Club on Wednesday.