May 11, 2008

Division II Volleyball Programs

A question about the top Division II Volleyball programs and how this relates to recruiting:

Hey Coach,

Could you try to let us know some of the Top Division II programs with in the three general regions - West - Central - East.

We are trying to hash out out some schools. Our daughter has some Mid to Lower level Div 1 offers and a couple of Upper Div II (at Least by Rankings) offers from the above areas. She is leaning toward Div II in So Cal and the Northwest but has a couple of Div II schools interested in her from both the central states and east Coast. Just a little advice would be nice......

Thanks, Chris

This is a good question, especially this late in the recruiting process - come late spring, many high school Seniors are having to make some tough choices.  The American way, and maybe human, nature is to try and reach the highest level of anything - do you want to drive a Porsche or a Ford, do you want to live in a house or an apartment, are you going to get an A or a C in a certain class?  Do you chase the title/ego of Division I or the better fit of Division II?  

The scholarship pecking order seems to be Division I, Division II, NAIA (because these are 4 year schools), Junior College and then Division III (I don't agree with DIII being last in line because even though they don't offer athletic scholarships, academic scholarships are readily available and the DIII philosophy keeps volleyball from overwhelming a student's college experience).  

I strongly encourage players and families to look at the whole package - too often I have seen PSA's choose a school simply because it was Division I while not looking at academics, location, staff abilities or personality.  Many times in these situations, the player ends up transferring or just stopping volleyball.  As I have written about already, too many Division I programs trade on the title Division I while not providing the support incumbent to a Division I level athletics program.  

When Head Coaches are making less than a fast food restaurant manager, being asked to fund raise budget money for basic program needs and have to play the political games of a Division I athletics department, this is the recipe for a short term head coach who can quickly lose the passion for the sport they love.  Many, many Division II volleyball coaches are in a better financial and emotional situation than their DI counterparts - they make as much or more, don't have to travel nationally to play and recruit, don't have to deal with the massive amount of politics that are a residual of DI basketball and football, and they have more free time.  By and large, this leads to a higher job satisfaction and long term coaching tenures.

The same thing can be said of Division III and NAIA coaches, and possibly Junior College coaches (I just don't know enough coaches to generate a solid opinion).  Of course, each classification will have turn over and change, but my perception is that non-Division I coaches are a bit happier overall.  I feel this is important because if the Head Coach is happy and satisfied, this will usually translate into a better experience for their players.

Back to the Question - The top Division II programs in each region can be be found by looking at the NCAA website and linking to Division II Volleyball Regional rankings.  Division II Volleyball (and other DII sports) is a bit more logical than Division I - they do everything truly by region.  In Division I, the top 3 conferences will put in 6 to 7 teams each to the NCAA Championship - selection is driven by conference not region ranking.  In Division II, regional ranking determines your selection to the NCAA Division II Championship.  This is why researching the regional rankings and cross referencing it to the Top 25 DII ranking is important.  For example, one region that is very weak will put in 8 teams, while another region that is very strong will put in 8 teams and per the format of Division II Volleyball, the opening rounds of the National Championship tournament are just a Regional Championship - only one team will come out of the region to play another team outside of the region.  There is no regional cross over or mixing of the geographical regions like in Division I.  

In Division II Volleyball the mid-west regional teams really don't care a bit about the southeast regional teams.  In DI we always hear about such and such a conference expressing their belief they should have more teams in the NCAA Tournament than another conference located across the country.  

Division II is regionally focused - period.  Because of this, a PSA must just look at that school (academic quality) and how that program does within its region (don't worry about nationally).  If it is consistently ranked in the top 3 in the region year in and year out, then that is a top team.  Don't look at conference, because even though the conference gets one automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament, if the team has a poor regional ranking, they will get beat quickly in the NCAA Tournament.

Division II institutions tend to have a bit more academic focus than Division I.  They don't travel as much, they only are supposed to play in-region or a border region (if located near another region), the National Championship is just a regional tournament until the top 8 (eight regions each send one team to the real championship tournament) and the season is not as long as Division I.  This means that the players can actually have an existence outside of their sport.  Division III is the best classification if a PSA wants to play volleyball but not have volleyball be the main reason for going to a certain college.  When all is said and done in my career, I can see finishing out as a Division III coach.

For Chris and his daughter, my advice is simple - look at the academic quality of the school and if they have the major you want, look at the location (close or far from home - what is important to your daughter?), and then look at how well the program consistently does within its region.  Don't over think the situation, just keep an open mind, look objectively at each school and go with what feels right to your daughter.

If it feels right, it usually is right.