Luke DeCock

Triangle Ten: The 10 most influential people in Triangle sports in 2017

Scott Dupree, left, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, and his son Davis Dupree, center, take in a game during the John Wall Family Foundation Holiday basketball tournament on Wednesday, December 28, 2017 at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C.
Scott Dupree, left, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, and his son Davis Dupree, center, take in a game during the John Wall Family Foundation Holiday basketball tournament on Wednesday, December 28, 2017 at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C.

Athletic directors and franchise owners are joined by a lawyer and a youth coach, among others, in the inaugural Triangle Ten, an assessment of the 10 most influential people in Triangle sports in 2017.

This list was compiled by News & Observer sports columnist Luke DeCock with input from other staff members and focuses on impact in 2017 specifically.

1. Scott Dupree, Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance executive director

In any year, Dupree does a lot of the dirty work on all the sporting events that come to Wake County, major and minor, especially NCAA championships. In 2017, he played a crucial role in calling attention to the long-term damage HB2 could do to the state’s relationship with the NCAA and laying the foundation for a compromise repeal. In the aftermath, the GRSA landed 13 NCAA championships over the next four-year cycle, including the NCAA basketball tournament at PNC Arena in 2021.

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2. Rick Evrard, Bond, Schoeneck & King lawyer

Evrard was the architect of North Carolina’s ultimately successful defense against the NCAA. A Kansas City lawyer who once worked for the NCAA as an investigator, Evrard’s strategy to declare the university’s paper classes academically legitimate essentially denied the NCAA any jurisdiction. And the university’s previous characterization of them as “academic fraud” to its accreditor? Merely a “typo.” If Evrard’s back on this list in 2018 for any reason, someone’s in serious trouble.

3. Kevin White, Duke athletic director

Duke athletic director Kevin White, left, talks with ACC commisioner John Swofford, middle, and Duke football coach David Cutcliffe, right during Duke football pro day in March. Chuck Liddy

While perhaps not as influential as he was in 2016, when he played a critical role in the formation of the ACC Network, White’s influence expanded beyond the Triangle in 2017 not only as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s board of directors but as the chairman of its new Collegiate Advisory Council, which is designed to enhance cooperation between the USOC and Olympic sports at the college level. Closer to home, Duke put the finishing touches on several ambitious facility upgrades, although renovations to the interior of Cameron Indoor Stadium remain ongoing.

4. George Williams, St. Augustine’s athletic director and track coach

St. Augustines University track coach George Williams won his 39th NCAA Division II track national title in 2017. Robert Willett

When Williams tells a story about his friend Albert, that’s actually Prince Albert of Monaco. While his Division II track dynasty continues to churn out Olympians and national champions – a fifth straight men’s outdoor team title in 2017, Williams’ 39th overall, and a third national title in the 400-meter hurdles for Tia-Adana Belle – Williams remains an extremely influential figure in the world of track and field, one whose global reach isn’t entirely appreciated within the Triangle. One surprising disappointment: losing out on a bid to host the Division II track championships at N.C. State.

5. Stephen Malik, North Carolina FC/North Carolina Courage owner

North Carolina FC president Steve Malik addresses a rally of soccer fans at City Market to promote Raleigh as a MLS expansion city in July. Robert Willett

Malik promised big things when he bought the former Carolina RailHawks two years ago and started to deliver in 2017. First, he bought a women’s team and branded it the Courage, in homage to WakeMed Soccer Park’s original tenant.

In February, he positioned Raleigh as one of 12 cities attempting to land an MLS expansion franchise. In July, he unveiled an ambitious plan for a $150 million stadium in a largely undeveloped area of downtown Raleigh, although he still has to convince the state to lease him the land. Malik’s bid was not one of four finalists for the first two expansion slots, but MLS plans to add two more teams in the next few years.

6. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke men’s basketball coach

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talks to the media about the upcoming season and the recent scandal in college basketball during a press conference in October. Chris Seward

Krzyzewski remains one of the most influential coaches, if not the most influential, in all of college basketball. And while no longer the U.S. Olympic coach, he continues to be involved as a consultant and his close confidant Gen. Martin Dempsey (ret.) was installed as USA Basketball chairman, replacing the retiring Jerry Colangelo. However college basketball ends up dealing with the fallout from the FBI investigation, Krzyzewski will have a voice, whether in public or behind the scenes.

7. Ingrid Wicker McCree, N.C. Central athletic director

N.C. Central athletic director Ingrid Wicker McCree, left, led a department that won MEAC football and basketball championships in the 2016-17 academic year. N&O file photo

The Eagles started to see the rewards of a long transition from Division II to Division I in 2017, with Wicker McCree’s steady leadership a major factor in that success. N.C. Central won MEAC titles in both football and basketball in the 2016-17 academic year and Wicker McCree is a rising star in the industry, building a powerhouse while still pushing hard to improve the department’s finances. Her big decision in 2017: promoting defensive coordinator Granville Eastman to replace football coach Jerry Mack, who left to become offensive coordinator at Rice.

8. Thomas Dundon, prospective Carolina Hurricanes owner

IMG_dundon_4_1_MKCVL106_L359946065 (1)
Dallas businessman Thomas Dundon reached an agreement to purchase the Carolina Hurricanes in 2017, a sale that could go through early in 2018. Rose Baca AP

While Dundon has met with players, minority owners and team employees, the Dallas investor has kept a very low public profile since he reached an agreement last month to purchase the team, declining all interview requests and even, in an interview with Golf Digest, saying he would only talk about golf and not the Hurricanes. What’s known: He is a primary investor in the TopGolf entertainment chain and spearheaded the construction of an exclusive golf club outside Dallas specifically designed to host tournaments, starting with the PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson. After years of stagnation under Peter Karmanos, the franchise is ripe for a shake-up and Dundon’s business history points to both ambition and innovation.

9. Debbie Yow, N.C. State athletic director

NC State athletic director Debbie Yow walks on the court during a tour of the renovated Reynolds Coliseum on Sept. 7, 2016. Ethan Hyman

Now in her eighth year at N.C. State, Yow remains a trailblazer who is enormously influential among fellow ADs and has steered the Wolfpack into the top 10 of the Learfield Directors’ Cup standings this fall, which measure success across all sports. (N.C. State finished 29th in the 2016-17 academic year.) Meanwhile, she (quickly and painlessly) hired a new basketball coach in Kevin Keatts and retained football coach Dave Doeren amid interest from Tennessee while her coaching hires in swimming (in 2011) and wrestling (in 2012) have built elite programs in both sports.

10. Dwayne West, Garner Road Basketball Club executive director

The driving force behind the Garner Road AAU program that has been the launching point for local stars like T.J. Warren, Isaiah Hicks, Terry Henderson and Devonte Graham, West and his more famous younger brother, NBA star David, have taken what was already a youth-basketball dynasty in southeast Raleigh (that produced John Wall) to the next level.

Five to watch for 2018

While they didn’t make our top 10 for 2017, these five are in position to have a huge impact in 2018.

1. Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina athletic director

UNC' ahletic director Bubba Cunningham comes out to see what's going on as players tussle in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game played between the California Golden Bears and the UNC Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC, on Sept. 2, 2017. Cal beat UNC, 35-30. Chris Seward

Finally out from under the NCAA investigation he inherited when he took the job, Cunningham can now turn his focus to the Tar Heels’ next big issue: What to do about the Smith Center? The arena, which will turn 32 next month, has too many seats, no suites, not enough amenities and is starting to age less than gracefully. Cunningham has been wrestling with the issue since 2013 but both renovations and replacement have proven prohibitively expensive or logistically impossible. With a wave of new facilities – including an indoor facility for football – close to completion and the NCAA issue settled, figuring out the future of the Smith Center stands out as a top priority.

2. Que Tucker, NCHSAA commissioner

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker led the organization through a tumultuous 2017 with more issues facing high-school athletics to confront in 2018. N&O file photo

In 2017, Tucker was able to find a compromise to a polarizing playoff system, shepherd through conference realignment and restructure the NCHSAA’s media deals after the demise of Spectrum Sports. She will still have far more on her plate in 2018 given the panoply of issues facing high-school athletics, especially in North Carolina – from concussions to the length of the football schedule to the dominance of charter schools in the 1A classification and private schools in larger classifications to what to do about home-schooled athletes. Finding a balance between football’s revenue-generation and its health issues will be critical to the future of the NCHSAA.

3. Dean Jordan, Wasserman Media Group managing executive

The former Hurricanes president was in many ways the catalyst behind bringing the ACC Network to fruition, acting as a consultant for the conference while working closely with ESPN to find the common ground necessary to advance the long-awaited network. As the network moves closer to its scheduled 2019 launch, Jordan’s counsel will remain vital to the ACC as it works through any issues and growing pains in its increasingly intertwined relationship with ESPN.

4. Kevin Keatts, N.C. State basketball coach

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New N.C. State head men's basketball coach Kevin Keatts, center, answers questions as athletic director Debbie Yow, right, and Chancellor Randy Woodson, left, listen during an introductory press conference at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, March 19, 2017. Ethan Hyman

Keatts’ tenure at N.C. State got off to a fast start with the upset of Arizona but reality intruded quickly with a home loss to UNC-Greensboro. Still, his early work has engendered optimism and having a competitive Wolfpack team is essential to the natural balance of basketball in the Triangle. At 45, Keatts could be around for a while – and exceeding expectations in Year 1 would go a long way toward putting his stamp on the program.

5. Peter Karmanos, Carolina Hurricanes owner (outgoing)

Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos watches his team practice in 2009. Chris Seward

After two decades, Karmanos still doesn’t have a personal footprint in the Triangle, but he’s primarily responsible for the team’s existence here and, by agreeing only to sell to someone who would keep the team here, responsible for its continuing existence here. It will be interesting – and, perhaps, fascinating – to see how active a role he will take as a minority owner in 2018.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947,, @LukeDeCock