November 21, 2007

To FIVB or not to FIVB - That is the Question

NCAA Volleyball has a strange relationship with FIVB rules (the ones that that USA Junior Volleyball programs compete under). We have reached the point in our NCAA Volleyball rules that we have to go all in or stay all out of the FIVB. Our current hybrid-crossover set of rules is only hurting NCAA Volleyball.

Within the last 10 years, NCAA Volleyball has seen some significant rule changes and none more impactive than the scoring change to rally score. Agree or disagree with the change (by the way, I strongly disagree with the change - it is akin to going with 10 minute basketball halves), it is here to stay. The change to rally score has been supported with a variety of hollow arguments and suppositions, yet the one clear influence was to align with the FIVB or international rules of the game. At the time of our voting on the rules proposal, which the majority of coaches and conferences voted AGAINST, the FIVB had already moved into rally scoring.

Yet, it seems with the independent streak inherent in being an American, we came up with our own unique set of rules for NCAA Volleyball, which borrowed from the FIVB. Some basic differences in the NCAA rules and FIVB rules:

- NCAA plays to 30, FIVB to 25.

- Libero can serve in NCAA, but not in FIVB.

- NCAA allows 15 substitutions with unlimited entry, the FIVB has 6 with only 1 entry.

- NCAA has no automatic time outs (except during television/radio) while the FIVB does.

These are significant differences, the NCAA rules have longer games (which I agree with), Libero is on the floor 5.5 rotations (I disagree) and position specialization through substitutions (disagree with strongly).

By playing under the new NCAA rules the last number of years, we have seen a negative impact upon the high end talent of the USA players. Oganna Nnamani, a numerous NCAA award honoree and current outside hitter with USA Volleyball, struggles to pass and play defense at the international level - the argument could be made that she did not have to learn to pass because at Stanford, the Libero and virtually unlimited substitutions allowed her to hide from passing. Our NCAA middle blockers can't play backrow defense and in fact, one middle blocker per team does not even have to go into the back row. Currently, our national team coaches feel that they have to teach skills that should have been mastered years ago at the college level.

The newest departure that is being considered for the hybrid NCAA rules, is to allow double hits on each and every contact. Currently our rules are so loose that many players are consistently allowed to double hit the ball when setting, and thus not learn to set correctly. Now, NCAA Volleyball is going to allow this officiating shortcoming to become law and teach a whole generation, including setters, not to focus on setting.

This rule change will have a negative impact upon those players that wish to engage upon the quest to continue playing volleyball at a level above college. What we are considering would be similar to allowing baseball players to only strike out swinging the bat, because the umpires can't be consistent with the strike zone - great for the umpires, but the college baseball players will be ill prepared for the next level.

Some may argue that it is not the NCAA Volleyball community's responsibility to develop players for the national team or professional level - but I disagree. Isn't higher education about preparing students to excel at the highest levels after college? We are not taking chemistry students and preparing them to make Kool Aid - Chemistry professors are developing the abilities of their students to reach the highest possible levels of their proposed profession.

As NCAA Volleyball coaches and administrators, we should be preparing our student-athletes to achieve the highest possible level of play and that means international competition. Our players may not have the natural talent abilities to get there, but we should train them as if they do.

We cannot continue with this hybrid of volleyball rules - it is distracting to the players, the coaches and the fans. The NCAA rules are constantly in flux - I can't tell you how many times a referee has referenced incorrect rules when explaining a call to me - the college volleyball community can't keep up.

A decision needs to be made - NCAA Volleyball either follows FIVB rules or does not. If we do not follow FIVB rules, then we need to make a conscience effort to determine what set of rules is best for NCAA Women's Volleyball and implement these rules completely and stick to them, not reference the FIVB rules whenever the some entity wishes to tweak the NCAA rules and wants to use the FIVB as justification.

I have never been a big fan of the FIVB (remember, I played with our National Team, professionally in Europe and I coached in an international professional league) because they tend to be antagonistic towards American volleyball. Yet, I have come to respect them more, because unlike NCAA Volleyball, they are not changing their rules every year with no positive outcome.

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