Scott Dupree, right, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, laughs with Alex Bass the sports information director for Cardinal Gibbons High School at the John Wall Family Foundation Holiday basketball tournament on Wednesday. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com
Scott Dupree, right, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, laughs with Alex Bass the sports information director for Cardinal Gibbons High School at the John Wall Family Foundation Holiday basketball tournament on Wednesday. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Luke DeCock

Triangle Ten: How Scott Dupree helped save NCAA basketball in NC

By Luke DeCock

ldecock@newsobserver.com

December 29, 2017 07:05 PM

RALEIGH

Scott Dupree says he hit .212 as senior as a (right-handed) first baseman at Wilson Hunt, which was a pretty good indication that his future in sports lay elsewhere. As the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, his batting average has been considerably higher.

Dupree, the driving force behind the Triangle’s emergence as a sports destination for everything from NCAA championships to youth volleyball tournaments, played a particularly important role in 2017. While many others had sounded the alarm about House Bill 2 and the NCAA, it was his letter to legislators in February that drove home just what was at stake, helping prepare the landscape for a last-minute repeal at what the NCAA made clear was the last minute just before the Final Four.

For that, and his continuing influence on sports in the Triangle, Dupree tops the inaugural Triangle Ten, an unscientific assessment of the 10 most influential people in Triangle sports in 2017.

“It was challenging, first and foremost, because it was different than any other year I’ve experienced,” Dupree said. “And that is because for the first five months of the year, it was focused on the HB2 situation and the political aspect of it. We’re not used to that at all. We’re 100 percent focused on sports, bids, hosting events, bidding for events, planning events. And from January through April, last year, it was for me – and for many others – it was almost exclusively on dealing with HB2 and trying to figure out a way to get it resolved.”

While Dupree played a key role in conveying the potential damage if HB2 stayed on the books, he’s someone who could potentially top this list in any year.

Since becoming the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitor Bureau’s first sports marketing director in 1998, Dupree and what has grown to a staff of five have made Raleigh one of the nation’s premier destinations for mid-sized sporting events. He was named national sports commission executive of the year in 2014 and his department earned the industry’s highest honor in 2015.

Over the past two decades, Dupree and local partners ranging from N.C. State to CASL to USA Baseball to the Town of Cary to the Carolina Hurricanes to Campbell have brought in everything from an NHL All-Star Game to massive youth soccer tournaments to annual staples like the Division II College World Series and Ironman triathlons. Dupree, a North Carolina graduate with a son and a daughter enrolled there now, has played a key behind-the-scenes role in orchestrating the various entities and stakeholders needed to pursue and land events both big and small.

“This is a great sports town,” said Dupree, 54. “We have so many good sports people and organizations and teams and venues and sports groups, it’s just a pleasure and an honor for me to be in the middle of it and be able to work with so many people who are good at what they do, and not just good at what they do but good people, good to be around.”

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.
Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

After working in sports information as a student at UNC, Dupree worked at Notre Dame and Arizona State before returning to the Triangle in 1993 to handle communications for UNC’s bicentennial celebration. He moved from there to the convention bureau and has been there ever since, helping schools, teams, venues and governments navigate the often arcane bidding process for youth, NCAA and professional events and then coordinating the management of those that come here.

With some events, he has less to do than with others. At the John Wall Holiday Invitational this week, Dupree ducked into Broughton’s Holliday Gym to watch a few games here or there with his son, but his real work with the tournament is as a resource when it comes to evaluating potential venues (Reynolds Coliseum is too busy, the Raleigh Convention Center too expensive, Broughton a little small but probably the right size) or other logistical issues.

But when PNC Arena hosts the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, Dupree is everywhere as chair of the local organizing committee: hosting receptions, troubleshooting transportation, working closely with N.C. State to make sure everything runs smoothly, all behind the scenes.

In 2017, Dupree unwillingly found himself in a surprisingly visible position. The adoption of HB2, the state law that required people in government buildings and schools to use bathrooms that matched the gender on their birth certificates, saw everyone from the NBA to the ACC to the NCAA pulling events from the state, not to mention the damage done to the state’s finances by companies that canceled expansion plans or the damage done to the state’s reputation as a place hostile to the LGBT community.

Repeal had proven surprisingly difficult, even with a change in parties in the governor’s office, and with a major NCAA deadline looming, North Carolina faced what could potentially amount to a six-year drought of NCAA championships. Greensboro had already lost the right to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament in 2017 to Greenville, S.C., and the NCAA was soliciting bids for four years of events in all sports, from 2018-19 through 2021-22.

Dupree, knowing from his connections within the NCAA that time was running out, penned a letter on behalf of the North Carolina Sports Association to legislators on Feb. 6 outlining just how much was at stake.

“In a matter of days,” Dupree wrote, “our state’s sports tourism industry will suffer crushing, long-term losses and will essentially close its doors to NCAA business. Our window to act is closing rapidly.”

While it didn’t provoke immediate action, and the NCAA continued to push back its own deadlines, it did raise awareness that the NCAA was serious – and when the NCAA finally did set a hard deadline in April, the groundwork to finally repeal HB2 had been laid in the wake of Dupree’s letter.

“Scott Dupree’s letter made it clear that the NCAA deadline was real, not made up,” a spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper said. “And that helped galvanize legislators to support the repeal of HB2.”

In the wake of the repeal, Wake County landed 13 championships over the four-year period, up from 12 in the last bid cycle and including the NCAA basketball tournament in 2021 at PNC Arena as well as the men’s or women’s College Cup each year.

Despite being across the county line, Campbell is the host school for those College Cups, played at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, and Dupree and athletic director Bob Roller have formed a fruitful partnership bidding for events in Wake County – and in Harnett County, in the case of the 2016 Big South basketball tournament that Campbell landed on short notice.

“His love for sports and love for this area are so evident when we’re working with him on projects,” Roller said. “I’ve known him since he was an aspiring sports-info student at North Carolina. At the time I was at East Carolina. We’re working right now with him on something involving the Big South again. Whatever we do, I know it’s going to go well and it’s going to be a professionally done bid, a professionally done event.”

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock