December 19, 2008

NCAA Volleyball Championship - A Humbling Reminder

I was reading the USA Today (Thursday, December 18) and came across a little blurb, almost a reporting hiccup, about the NCAA Women’s Volleyball National Championship. After I read the few lines of information, I became disheartened about just how far away NCAA Women’s Volleyball is from attaining attainable goals.

It was not a big sporting news day – Thursday means no professional football scores to report or lead-in stories for the next day’s games, college basketball just had a couple of games played the previous night and the 900 football bowl games have yet to commence. The cover story was about how Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) is not happy because he can’t be himself with the Phoenix suns and the other two front page stories were of NFL games four days away and winter baseball information. The Sports section was one of filler – summary stories, personal stories, etc. – Not the usual fare of recap and preview stories about sporting events.

I found the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball hiccup on page 4 or 6, buried in the lower left hand corner because I was bored enough to read every page. Just a couple of lines of information about the match-ups, in the smallest type that USA Today uses (much smaller than their article font size). What was bothersome to the volleyball fan in me, was that just above the NCAA ‘by the way’ about our National Championship, there were more lines, in larger type, devoted to Florida quarterback Tim Tebow filing paperwork with the NCAA to explore going professional. Wow – How far do we have to go when the paperwork filing of a football player trumps the entire Division I Women’s Volleyball season?

If there was ever a great opportunity for our sport to gain media attention (anyone remember the Olympics?), it would be this year: 1) Penn State had not dropped a single game (excuse me, set) all season (at time of the USA Today), 2) Nebraska overcomes the odds to make it through to their home court Final Four and almost assuredly set a new attendance record, 3) Stanford makes another trip to the Final Four and will the potential of Cynthia Barboza be fulfilled with a championship?, 4) Texas makes a return trip and brings the Big 12 up a huge step by having two teams in the last two matches. These are all topics that are worthy of a full article, not 4 sentences of tiny type.

Consider the amount of press coverage that U. of North Carolina men’s basketball or U. of Tennessee women’s basketball would garner at the Final Four had they gone undefeated and never been behind at halftime and won every game by twenty points. The sport’s news coverage and commentators would be falling all over themselves to talk about this unheard of feat. The odds against another volleyball team doing what Penn State has done this year are beyond huge – I would think if you asked any volleyball coach, at any level, if they thought a NCAA Division I team could sweep every single match they played? NO WAY!!! Would be the response – No way!

Begs the question – Why no coverage? I believe it is the responsibility of the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Committee, working hand in hand with the AVCA to do anything and everything to attract, garner and insure media coverage in all its many forms. This is all a part of marketing and promotions, and it is relatively cheap. The USA Today is the only national newspaper; every hotel, airport and newsstand has a copy of it at all times. What about CNN Sports, Headline News, The Sporting News, Fox Sports, the LA Times, the New York Times? These are examples of national level media which could do more in one event of exposure than everything we have paid for up until this point and they are free! I say paid, because there is a Media Fee on the DI Head Coaches membership to the AVCA.

The NCAA and AVCA may counter that it is the responsibility of the individual institutional Sports Information Directors and Media Relations to attain this goal. I completely disagree. The school’s SID’s can take care of their local media, but not the national media; a national volleyball organization should handle the national media.