Yow at work, helping UM rise toward top

THE BALTIMORE SUN

COLLEGE PARK - As Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow looked out the window of the Comcast Center, she noticed the dump trucks rolling in and out as the Terps prepared to put down the surface for a new field hockey and women's lacrosse facility.

Yow smiled.

There is symbolism here. Despite a bump in the road from the NCAA's one-year probation on Maryland's athletic program issued earlier this week, it's business as usual in College Park.

And that's a good thing.

Even with all the recent success of the school's football and basketball programs, you wondered if it might end because of the black cloud that hung over Maryland athletics for so long.

But this is a much different Maryland these days. Not only does the university have a wealth of good coaches, but it also has an athletic director who has helped reshape an attitude at the school.

Men's basketball coach Gary Williams gets a lot of credit for turning around the school's athletic fortunes, and he should. Football coach Ralph Friedgen is also getting praised, and that's also deserved.

But what about Yow?

This situation with a former Maryland football assistant giving a former Gilman player chump change could have easily gotten out of hand, much like things did after a member of former Maryland basketball coach Bob Wade's staff gave player Rudy Archer a ride to class. But Yow and the Terps acted quickly.

The assistant was forced to resign. The Terps hired a firm to conduct an investigation and turned themselves in, which was lauded by the NCAA in its own investigation. The NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, called the offense major, but only slapped Maryland on the wrist.

It's hard to handle the NCAA. Its people come into town riding the proverbial white horse like John Wayne and talking as tough as George W. The NCAA has bylaws that no one has enough time to read - sooner or later, it has to find a violation.

But there was nothing more found at Maryland than expected.

The university showed institutional control. Before Yow's arrival nearly 10 years ago, the Terps had very little control, because no athletic director stayed here long. Five of Yow's predecessors averaged three years, and this program still suffered from the aftermath of the death of former Terps basketball player Len Bias in 1986.

But it was time to move on.

Yow has been at Maryland for the past nine years, long enough to decrease an inherited $43 million debt in 1994 to $14.3 million in 2003. Long enough to balance the budget for nine straight years after nine years of deficits. Long enough to contribute $2 million from the athletic department to the main campus administration the past two years to help pay bills.

Yow has had her critics. But in a bottom-line business, here is the bottom line on Yow: The Terps have won nine national championships during her reign, student-athletes are graduating, and she is making money.

Just as impressive is she has both of her top coaches signed to long-term deals and has given Friedgen everything he has asked for in an effort to win a football national championship.

Take a ride around the Maryland campus and you see construction all over the place. Additions to the football team house include a 5,200-square-foot academic support area, a 3,500-square-foot multipurpose room complete with dining facility, and a 4,000-square-foot team auditorium. The front of the building is also being redesigned.

Expected total cost: $10 million to $12 million.

Two artificial turf football fields were recently added. Total cost: $3 million.

And it's not just the money-making sports. Since 1995, the university has completed a new soccer stadium, track, softball complex and, of course, the Comcast Center.

There are plans to complete renovation of the baseball team's Shipley Field, finish Phase II of the field hockey/women's lacrosse facility, and remodel the varsity team house.

The Terps need money to complete the projects, but Yow seems confident. During the 1995-96 school year, the Terps raised about $2.4 million. In 2000-01, that number jumped to about $21 million.

"We're not in the arms race; we're not even close," Yow said. "We just want representative facilities. We don't have to have the best soccer stadium in the country, but it should be good, and we should be proud of it. A Chevy will get you where you have to go; it doesn't have to be a Mercedes."

It's an athletic program that is on the move, one that went nearly 35 years without any major renovations. Maryland will soon add two sports - water polo and competitive cheerleading. Since 1998, nearly 86 percent of all student-athletes who have stayed their entire careers at Maryland have graduated, a 10 percent jump in five years.

Williams has been to two Final Fours and won a national championship in the past three years. Friedgen has played in two straight bowl games, routing Tennessee in the Peach Bowl in December.

"We want to maximize our potential," Yow said. "Right now, I don't think we're even close. We want to be one of the top 10 programs in the nation consistently in all sports. We still have eight teams in the varsity field house, and that's unacceptable. ... Therein lies the challenge, given the economy today.

"We have to raise money, and it has to come from the private sector. It's one day at a time. It's really a step out in faith. But even with the recent issue with the NCAA, we're vastly different than we were in the 1990s. There has been a change of attitude."

And Yow has been instrumental in reshaping it.

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