January 11, 2009

Television Broadcasts of Volleyball

Coach, I am a father of the 12 year old club volleyball player and have enjoyed reading your blog.

A common theme on your blog is the lack of popularity of college game a compared to other collegiate sports. I have often felt that the broadcasters don't do a good enough job of showing the athleticism required to pay the game. The camera angles are too broad and rarely, if ever, do the networks show a replay of an outstanding play. In comparison, watching a football or men's or women's basketball game, the viewer will get 2, 3, or more camera angles on an outstanding catch, dunk, or 3-point shot. It seems as though the networks need a technical adviser to help them cover the game more effectively. What are your thoughts? JG

I would absolutely agree with JG's assessment of the television broadcast for the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship matches. Volleyball is a dynamic sport that is played by a large number of people in a rather small area. Using just a couple of cameras does not do justice to our sport. If you think about it, tennis is played on approximately the same size court, with two players predominantly on the end line, yet 4 or more cameras are in use.

It was just by happenstance that before receiving JG's question, I read a small snippet on the NCAA.org website about more camera angles and equipment which will be used in the the next NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. This article referenced a person from the NCAA who had the title, "NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball and Business". Wow!!! If that does not illustrate the chasm between Volleyball and Basketball, nothing will.

As I have written previously, this would be an excellent topic for an AVCA devoted to NCAA Volleyball to pursue upon behalf of NCAA Division I Volleyball. NCAA Division I Head Coaches already pay a 'Media Fee', in addition to the appropriate membership fee to the AVCA to promote the broadcasting of volleyball matches, so I would hope this money includes some type adviser for television entities. I try to read the various releases by the NCAA Volleyball Committee and the AVCA Division I releases (I don't know the technical term because it gets lost with the information being sent out for the assistant coach of the Grand Canyon Junior High co-ed volleyball team), yet it is tough to discern what is being proactively done with regards to televised volleyball.

Not too long ago, ESPN had requested the NCAA Volleyball Committee switch the location of the Up and Down officials, so the cameras would have a better shot of the action along the net. Most volleyball playing facilities that have the electrical and technological abilities to televise volleyball are also the playing facilities for basketball. As such, the television camera locations are pre-wired to be directly across from the Official Scorer's Table; we never see basketball televised from behind the scorer's table, always facing it. ESPN's request is logical given the parameters of the equipment, while trying to create a better viewing environment.

What did the Volleyball Committee do? They indirectly said no. When I think about this situation, I still get as upset today as the day I read it. ESPN tells us they want a simple change that will allow for a better broadcast and portrayal of NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball and we tell the number one network in the world for sports no. I need a painkiller.

Back to JG's question - Yes, the NCAA Volleyball Committee and/or the AVCA should have someone working with ESPN to constantly improve the quality and variety of the telecast. Let me say that there may well be someone employed in this capacity, but I agree that the National Championship match does not reflect the athleticism of Women's Volleyball.

Probably the best set up for televising a volleyball match that I have seen was at the University of Hawaii. For that telecast, the local station used one camera across from the scorers table at mid-court, a camera (or two) at the end lines and then two shoulder held cameras located at approximately each 10 foot line on rolling stools. This set up allowed for side, end and low angle views. Volleyball is a game of geometry and having multiple cameras and multiple angles helps project a more accurate display of the athleticism.

Of course, there is room for additional camera views. I know the NCAA uses a 'boom arm' camera, but I don't feel it does much for the telecast. If they put the boom on the side line and the fans could see how much a hitter broad jumps and the transfer of power from approach to attack, that would be unique. A camera located directly above the net (under the score board) would show the offensive play sets and how quickly the defense moves into transition attack. Cameras located behind the team benches would show exactly the angles that the coaches see when coaching. Lots of possibilities.

For me, this is a perfect illustration of how we can 'improve' our game without having to change our game. Changing our game has not improved it, as per the reasons for the change which were put forth, it has only changed the game. There are any number of improvements we can make to the sport of NCAA Women's Volleyball without having to change the game of volleyball.

Our focus is in the wrong area - It needs to be in those areas that can have a recognizable positive effect. Creative marketing and promotion efforts, rattling the Title IX saber to increase the salaries of assistant coaches to attract more female student-athletes into collegiate coaching (Pop Quiz - Why do college volleyball players become high school volleyball coaches as opposed to college volleyball coaches? The pay is better and the time commitment is less), the AVCA demanding a voice when conferences negotiate television packages, etc.

There is no shame in demanding better. Other sports demand and receive. We just seem to change and hope for the best.