February 10, 2008

NCAA Volleyball Rule Changes

Springtime in Women's Volleyball - Club Volleyball getting into an important stretch of tournaments, college teams going hard in the group of four trainings, recruits getting closer to making a huge decision about their future, college coaches pounding the pavement (or Sport Courts depending on the size of the gym) to put together the next great recruiting class and the NCAA Women's Volleyball Rules Committee's yearly justification for existence.

The NCAA Rules Committee has put forth three gems of wisdom for us to review this year. Outside of the noteworthy changes, they did address a serious of administrative issues that will not impact the game, but rather help in the physical management of the game. By the way, each of the rule changes can be found on the
NCAA web site or the AVCA web site.

Gem Number One:

Points Required to Win a Set. (Rule 8.2.1, page 45)—The number of points required to win sets one through four is now 25. Rationale: There is a significant reduction in the intensity of many contests in the middle of a set that is played to 30 points. Fan and player focus and fan excitement will increase with this change. Additionally, a significant number of televised games are extending more than two hours in duration. Note: the number of points required to win the fifth set remains at fifteen.

"The 25-point sets will add an intensity and excitement level to our matches that has been missing," said Marcia Alterman, the committee's secretary-rules editor. "I believe that players, coaches and fans will agree that the critical nature of every point will emphasize the need for focus and consistency to every play."

Silly me, I though the whole reason we switched to Rally score originally was because Sideout score was boring and we would be on television all the time. So, now if we shave 5 points from each game, then everyone will be excited because the games are really boring now and the television contracts will be jamming up the FAX machine.

(A quick side note - Why is someone who is not a coach or NCAA/Conference administrator providing a quote on a critical change to the sport of college volleyball? Just another example of the amateurish efforts of our sport. Would NCAA Men's Basketball use the quote of the Rules Secretary? Heck no, a big time NCAA official or Athletic Director from a major conference would have their name attached to the release!)

My first reaction is this change comes 5 years too late - it should have been done when the NCAA first switched over to Rally score. The bottom line is that 25 point games are too quick for a feature match. If you have ever had the opportunity to watch an elite level team play a 25 point game (high school and club do not count), they go very fast - you may not think so, but there is a significant difference in the length of the game with the loss of those 5 additional points. This shortening of length, will virtually eliminate any in-game comebacks. Making a comeback was already tough, but now you might as well go grab a soda with a few points left so you don't miss the start of the next game. The matches will be much quicker - if a team is just slightly less talented and loses by scores of 21, 21 and 21, the match will be over in less than 1 hour. What NCAA team sport is done in one hour? Nothing like asking a family to spend over $20.00 in tickets for a one hour sporting event. Some supporters will say that we need to follow the FIVB scoring format - I say why? The NCAA is not part of the FIVB. Does NCAA Basketball follow the format of International Basketball? I am sure that that International Basketball does not play 20 minute halves.

Gem Number Two:

The following points are new emphases by the rules committee, and should decrease the number of whistles that stop play: Only the most obvious violations should be called. Referees should be less severe when judging an athletic play by a player in less than ideal position. In other words, be lenient when a player makes their best effort that results in unorthodox technique. However, don’t confuse clumsiness or lack of skill with athleticism. A player who has the opportunity to set the ball from good position will be expected to execute without a double contact. Referees should avoid being overly mechanical or technical in their judgments, and work within the current culture of the sport and the spirit of the competition.

"There has been a demand for more consistency regarding the referees' ball handling decisions for several years across all divisions as well as regions of the country," said Kerry Carr, chair of the committee and head women's volleyball coach at the University of Pennsylvania. "I think the game will benefit from a decrease in the whistles that stop a rally due to a marginal infraction on ball handling, especially when there's been a great athletic attempt to keep the ball alive."

Easier rules do not make better referees. Except for being clearly spelled out in the rule book, the double hit has ended. This new direction for the calling of double hits makes it plain that the only way a double hit will be called is if it is within the first 5 points of the first game, the setter is standing in the setting zone and has been there for a solid 2 minutes, the ball she is about to set is from a free ball pass, has no CSI detectable foreign substances on it, has zero rotation, the setter does not have to take a step or even shift her weight and the free ball pass will hit her on the forehead; then to even merit consideration as a double hit, the ball must be rotating faster than one of Mercury's moons and veer off at a minimum angle of 30 degrees to the setters shoulder target line. As funny as this may sound, the funnier line is that the officials will still make an incorrect call on some player who just flew across the court, pivoted and set a ball high to target that happened to rotate 2 times. We continue to dumb down the game and this is just the next brick in the wall.

Gem Number Three:

The volleyball rules book was slated to move to a two-year cycle starting with the 2009 publication. The committee is forwarding a request to PROP to start its two-year cycle with the 2010 book. This will provide a better cycle to consider those rule changes made by Federation of International Volleyball (FIVB) after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

If we don't even feel that we are the sole representative of volleyball in the USA, who else will? Once again, does NCAA Basketball wait to see what International Basketball does before setting policy? Does NCAA Football consult with the NFL before instituting rule changes? NCAA Football and Men’s Basketball are not the apex of their respective professions, but they sure do act like it and they enjoy the benefits.

In one fell swoop, the NCAA Rules Committee dropped NCAA Volleyball on the volleyball totem pole. Right now, we rank just above High School Volleyball and in a sense, we are equal to them because we allow the libero to serve. The FIVB, the USA National Teams and now USA Junior Volleyball can now be seen as more important than NCAA College Volleyball because we follow their rules. Why are we tying our sport to the falling star of USA Volleyball is beyond my comprehension - this is an organization that has a one in four year opportunity to shine and the last too many Olympics they have not done anything. Quick - Name the last time the United States won a Medal in Olympic Indoor Women's Volleyball? And we have agreed to follow this organization? BANG - We just shot ourselves in the foot again.

It is not our job to be the feeder system for USA Volleyball. They only have themselves to blame for their poor international performance - we can not be party to an incestuous organization that enriches the very top of the pyramid by the monies from the base.

If anything illustrates the total lack of logic of our Rules Committee it is the quote below:

A recommendation from the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Committee was reviewed to amend Rule 18 to include an option for relocating the first referee to the bench side of the net for the NCAA championships. ESPN has made this request to enhance the television production of the championship. No action was taken on the request at this time, but continued research and consideration are planned in the near future.

For how many years have we heard the siren's song of television? Every year the Rules Committee references how the latest, greatest rule change will get more volleyball matches on television. We must get on television, more matches on television, etc. - this is a constant. The AVCA even has a Media Fee on the dues of NCAA DI Head Coaches specifically to promote televised matches.

So, when ESPN, 'The World Wide Leader in Sports' makes a request for televised matches, what happens? The Rules Committee does NOTHING!!!! How do we change the most basic tenet of volleyball (how the games are scored and the length of the games), a change that affects every level of the sport, but for television matches we can't switch the up official so the camera and thus the viewing audience has a better picture of the match. A simple change, requested by the undeniable leader in sports television, that will have an immediate positive impact upon the game is not supported by the Rules Committee – Amazing.

The most frustrating part of this whole process is the lack of recourse we as coaches have. Coaches rarely see the results of the survey that is sent out before the "vote", we never see how the committee voted on the proposals, and then we have a Comment period before the rules become official. What the heck is a Comment period and what is the function? We send in an e-mail stating how upset we are about the changes and they hit the delete button. This is no posting of the results of the Comments - There is not even any discourse about how to veto or defeat the proposed rules - just make Comments.

The committee might as well be honest and say if we don't like the new rules, we can go into the forest and yell at the trees.

Once again, we are our own worst enemy and have only ourselves to blame for our amateurish presentation of the one of the most popular sports in the world.