With many athletic construction projects nearing completion and several teams preparing for their fall seasons, The Chronicle spoke with Kevin White, vice president and director of athletics, about those topics and his roles on the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors and men's basketball NCAA tournament selection committee.
Kevin White: I'm really pleased to convey that we're on schedule.
The major pieces that are under construction are the frontal addition to Cameron, which is the Rubenstein Pavilion, and then immediately across from Rubenstein, which is kind of a building that's directly adjacent to the Murray Building, is the Scott Family Athletics Performance Center, and then we have what we're calling a plaza.
As we head into Wallace Wade, the tower is fairly far along as well. Those three—I call them box buildings—will be completed by the end of August if not sooner. In fact, Scott is scheduled to be completed by the end of July, and the plaza, those three box buildings, and the whole apparatus should be done by the first football game September 3. We're on a really tight timeframe at this point but making really good progress.
To go back around the horn one more time, the Rubenstein Pavilion is 16,000 square feet—an 8,000 lobby entrance area into historic cathedral-like Cameron Indoor Stadium, which I think will be terrific, and then upstairs, there's a big club area, so there's going to be 8,000 square feet on both of those levels. It gives us an opportunity to uptick bathrooms by about 35 percent in our historic facility.
Across the way, the Scott Family Athletics Performance Center—that's 53,000 square feet. The first floor is strength and conditioning, about 12,000 square feet—it's largely underground—for all of the Olympic sports. Now, with the advent of softball where we'll have 24 Olympic sports, probably 540 student-athletes will be down there training.
The first floor is a big retail store, and it's 3,500 square feet and we're thrilled about this. It's going to be right on the plaza, and adjacent to it is the ticket operation, so when you come in and you buy your tickets, you walk next door and buy 17 tee-shirts and a hat because it's all going to be adjacent to one another, and then you'll go into your venue.
Regardless of the venue—Wallace Wade, Koskinen, and/or Cameron through Rubenstein Pavilion—you're going to buy your tickets at this ticket operation, and it's quite a large space. In the third floor over there in Scott is office space for everybody that's in the catacombs of Cameron. There are a lot of people that work below grade there. They're now going to lifted and elevated and put on the third floor of Scott, and it allows us to repurpose all that space in Cameron.
TC: Last year, you were appointed to the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors. With the Olympics approaching in August in Rio de Janeiro, what has that experience been like?
KW: It's been phenomenal for me. It was a cold call to me. I got a call—I'm a recovering track coach from the late 70s at the university level—and anyway, when they called me in June two years ago, they asked if I'd have an interest. Then, it was about an eight- or nine-month interview or review process. I was just riveted by the invitation to participate in the selection process, and then to be selected is beyond words for me. You represent athletes at the highest level of their sport.
I'm a product of an Olympic sport, and I coached it and love it, and beyond that, I'm pretty darn patriotic, and if you have an opportunity to serve our country in this tiny little way, for somebody like me is a huge deal. Meetings have been terrific. We have one more meeting at the end of this month in Omaha, actually. It's tied to the Olympic trials for swimming in Omaha, then we'll go to Rio and have the opportunity to be around the best athletes in the world, a lot of them which will be on the USA team. It is such a privilege, such an honor and way beyond anything I would have ever thought I'd have the opportunity to do.
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TC: This was also your first year on the men's basketball NCAA tournament selection committee. How did that change the way you watched this past college basketball season?
KW: A lot, actually. It's funny, as a member of the committee—there are 10 people on the committee—you have seven conferences you're responsible for, three primary and four secondary. Secondary means there is someone else doing it in a primary way and you're kind of their backup. It kind of reinvented the basketball season for me because now I'm looking at it through multiple prisms, not just an entertainment one.
You've got to be fair, you've got to justify and you've got to be critical when it needs to be part of the process. It was an entirely different kind of basketball season for me, and I learned a ton. That process is pretty complicated. You try to pick the very best teams in the country and there are all kinds of protocols in place. It's quite an apparatus in place, quite frankly. You've got your automatic qualifiers and you've got your at-large, and so when you create the field, then you've got to seed them, and that becomes an arduous task because there's a whisker difference between one team and another team.
The test for me, I never want anybody to cut the line. That was the vernacular I kind of used for myself and I used in the committee, quite frankly. I want to make darn sure that we're representing what's been earned by the kids on a given team. I don't want to feel like we just inserted somebody for the sake of inserting them. Cutting the line for me was a tenet I made up that we were going to make darn sure that everybody earned the right to be where they were at, so that put enormous pressure on me to really look deeply and closely at every decision.
TC: You said a few weeks that you expect Coach K to coach through 2021—five more years. What led you to say that?
KW: I said it first at an ACC meeting because the previous Saturday, I sat in here with coach for three and a half hours, three hours, and we just had a long year wrap-up conversation. We got into, 'How are you feeling? What are you doing? What's it look like?'
And he said, 'I feel really good. I've never been more excited, the recruiting class is great, I love what I'm doing.' He said to me, at every turn, people were asking him, 'When are you going to step away?' And he said, 'How do I stop that? I want the conversation to be about the kids that are coming and the future and what we're doing. I don't want it to be about, when are you leaving?'
I said, 'Well, when I get a chance, if I get a chance if I get asked, I'm going to throw that out there, and I'm going to tell them what you just told me, Mike.' And Mike had just said, 'I can go five more years. I can go longer than that. I don't know what I'm going to do.'
I said, 'You don't need to say it. I'll say it.' So that's the total disclosure how it happened, so I go to the ACC meeting, this guy comes up to me, he says, 'How long is Coach going to go?' I mean, every time you turn around—I get that question 15 times every basketball season. He gets it almost every day, and so I felt, let me just clear the air, and that's what I did.
TC: Especially in basketball but also generally, we've seen a rise in transfers across the nation. How does that change how you approach scholarship numbers as an athletic department and what impacts have you seen that have on college athletics?
KW: There's a freedom of movement like we haven't experienced before in college athletics, Young people know they have a four-year window to play, or a five-year window to play four is a better way to say it, and lots of young people tend to want to recalibrate a decision. They want the right to play, and maybe they went to a place and it isn't working out the way they thought it would, and so, I don't know if transient is the right word, but there's much more movement than we've ever seen in college sport.
The numbers every year—everybody says this was the high watermark. Well, we're about 200 transfers above the two or three years ago high watermark. It just keeps escalating, but young people want the freedom of decision expression, and just because they made one decision once, it doesn't mean they can't remake it, rethink about it, recalibrate it, and that's what I think we're seeing.
I don't think it's any more than that. Kids want to play. Kids absolutely want to play. Today's kids, because of [cell phones] and because of the high-profile combines they go to, all the good kids know all the good kids, so they understand this culture better than they've ever known them as a cohort, so if they find themselves in a situation where they're not going to realize their objective, their dream, they're scooting. It's no more than that, and they're better informed.
TC: What kind of changes are we going to be able to see from the outside in the women's basketball program as a result of the investigation that just wrapped up?
KW: It was largely an evaluation, and I'm not going to get into the specifics. I've already publicly indicated what we were going to say publicly. Really what we want is the student-athletes in that program to have a great experience, and part of having a great experience is having a pretty high degree of success, and we've always had a high degree of success. Quite frankly, [head coach] Joanne [McCallie] has averaged 27 wins a year in her nine years at Duke. By most people's standards, that's a pretty high degree of success, but we want really a great experience, high degree of success, and we don't want anything less or more for any of our other programs.
TC: Jumping to women's soccer, what did it mean for Duke to have the first college team to participate in that U.S. China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange? Did you go with the team on that trip?
KW: I didn't. I wish I could have, but I didn't. Our team was approached by the United States Sports Academy in Mobile, Alabama, and those guys arranged the contest. They were kind of brokered by China to go find a really good college team in our country to come over and to kind of enjoy that experience, and they selected Duke, and they came and they invited us and we accepted. We have had an absolutely amazing experience.
Obviously, they're all back, and I've talked with a number of people that were on that trip and it was one of the all-time life-changing experiences. I've gotten correspondence from some of the people, some of the players over there in the Chinese government and so forth. It's amazing how many notes I got. They just loved our kids. Our kids were great American ambassadors—not only ambassadors of Duke, but of the United States.
KW: It was a milestone, an enormous milestone—historic at a minimum. Our coaches and student-athletes had worked really hard to get into the bowl conversation, and then it was our fourth bowl in a row, and then to have the opportunity to win in Yankee Stadium—another historic opportunity in Yankee Stadium against a really good Big Ten team—it was good. It was a really great moment for Duke and certainly for Duke athletics, and pointedly, Duke football.
I'm really proud of what they have accomplished and I'm really looking forward to the future, particularly with getting the new facilities and everything else that we've been able to do. Football Saturdays at Duke now have an opportunity to become pretty special, and it sure seems in the last year or two that our students have kind of discovered their football program. It's going to be fun to see them create an ownership position around Duke football, not unlike the one that they have around Duke basketball, and I think it's well on its way, which is terrific.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.