October 29, 2009

Random Thoughts on College Volleyball and Beyond

Freeing up some space in my mental hard drive:

Bands - Ever notice that at EVERY football, basketball and women's basketball game there is a school band? A simple as this sounds, it illustrates a very clear example of a sport having support versus a sport being nothing but an afterthought. The AD's decide if a band will play at an event, not the band director (even though this is what AD's hide behind when you ask about it). Where I played college volleyball, we had the band and it was nice - good energy, families could listen to it, reflected school spirit and pride. Now, in almost all the gyms we just listen to canned music and music that if the lyrics were printed, instead of sung, families would be heading for the parking lot ASAP. I have yet to coach at a school where the band comes to play at home matches and I have coached at probably way too many schools! Maybe one day the band will come, maybe.

New NCAA Rules - One new rule has come to pass and another is being chewed on. The new rule is that the NCAA seasons of competition clock starts after one year has elapsed from high school graduation in women's volleyball. Many folks within the biz call this the tennis rule, because this one year freebie has been in effect with tennis awhile. This is a restrictive effort by those schools which do not recruit international players to hamstring those schools that do. My concern with this rule is that it does not apply to all sports. The NCAA is creating a number of future lawsuits by having different rules for different sports - How come the basketball player is allowed time and the tennis player is not?. The reason it does not apply to all sports is because the college football and college basketball communities do not want to limit themselves in this way. Basketball recruits international, more and more each year, but they don't have this rule. How many football players take some time to figure out post high school life and use more than a year to get themselves together? It is not a high percentage, but if you were to run down the rosters of DI football programs, I believe you might find a number of players that took some time. Life does not proceed in the late teenage years along a predictable curve for many Prospective Student Athletes, but now women's volleyball players don't have the luxury of time.

The proposed rule is an adjustment in the definition of being professional. The current rule states that if you competed with other professionals, you were professional, even if you did not get paid. For example, if you are from Belgium and are a very good young female volleyball player, you might get the opportunity to suit up with the professional team of the volleyball organization for which you are playing - Suiting up and getting paid are two different things but in the current eyes of the NCAA, you are now a professional. I think that this rule adjustment is an acknowledgement that the NCAA cannot determine if an International PSA did actually receive compensation or just played. This is a tough situation that I don't envy the NCAA amateurism folks because it is hard to figure out. I know when I played on professional teams, some of the players were receiving a great salary while others were just getting gas money (all based on talent and club resources). Usually the younger players did not get paid because the club traded the experience of playing with the best players for a salary - The young players did not mind because they were usually just finishing out high school and still living with parents. The downside of this new rules interpretation (if it passes) is that any current professional player just will need to say that they did not get paid or sign a contract - And, how on earth is the NCAA going to investigate getting paid or not in the Russian professional leagues? Finally, the NCAA almost has to allow this because in one of the glaring hypocritical football/basketball orientated amateurism rules, athletes can be professional in one sport but amateur in another! You see it often in football where a player was signed to a contract, received salary and played minor league baseball for a few years, then started college and plays football (and the seasons of competition clock does not start because they have no one year rule, and since they were not playing football, they did not trigger the clock start by team competition - that is how you have 24 year old sophomores playing football).

Proposed Basketball Rules - I absolutely love the blatant and obvious efforts by the college men's basketball to just not have any oversight within their sports. I was reading something on the NCAA website (here) about NCAA Basketball proposals - Some of the highlights; 1) Mandatory Summer School for all incoming players, 2) Practice with a Coach during this mandatory summer school time, 3) Team practice to start on October 1st instead of October 15th, 4) School will pay for Official Visit Travel costs for parents, 5) Players can remain on scholarship at a school, not play, and not count towards the NCAA sport limit, if a coach leaves for another school.

So, let me rewrite the above proposals in terms of how I see them; 1) Basketball coaches get all their kids on campus to put them into summer conditioning programs and they can take a couple of throw away classes so they don't have to worry too much during the season about school, and now summer school resources will be pulled away from Olympic sports (women's volleyball) because it is now an NCAA rule that basketball players must be on summer school financial aid (not the AD's choice, it is the rule!), 2) Basketball coaches now get hands on coaching time with the players in the gym in the summer, so that there will be ZERO open gym space for volleyball because the basketball teams are practicing since it is an NCAA rule. 3) Volleyball teams will get kicked out of the gym earlier or forced to practice late night or early morning because basketball now starts on 10/1, 4) Free vacation for parents to come to the school, which means that more money will be allocated for men's basketball and since our economy is garbage, this money will be taken from Olympic Sports (women's volleyball), 5) This is the really amazing one - A new hoops coach can now force off any number of players to free up scholarships to build their version of the program. What a great proposal! Everyone wins - The coach gets the scholarships right now with no penalty, the players who got the boot stay on full scholarships and just coast through their remaining years (who cares if they wanted to keep playing basketball) and the AD's erase any guilt of being accountable and responsible towards student-athletes.

I don't know what is more amazing, that this basketball group actually proposed these things or that the NCAA is actually considering them - The way it works for football and basketball is you ask for everything and get something; basketball will get something out of these embarrassingly hypocritical proposals and women's volleyball will lose something (funding, court time, etc.)

Skills - Pass to play, pass to win. No matter how many variations of approach or offensive systems or swing blocking or forward J dig sprawl you may teach, if you don't pass, you don't win. It amazes me the amount of tape that college volleyball coaches request and break down because our sport is not complicated and is more often determined by who passes better. You can have the greatest game play to take advantage of a weakness in your opponent, but if you can't pass the ball to your setter consistently, then odds are you are going to lose.

Economy - Remember in the summer how everyone was having a meltdown about the economy and how it was going to really affect college sports? Well, now that we have made it through into the fall, I think the economic fears only fleeced the Olympic sports and took nothing, nada, zero, zilch away from the Big 3. I know our football team is still chartering everywhere and taking buses to go to the bathroom; hoops is buying enough clothing to put on fashion week in Milan and they have enough staff to ensure that each player has their personal coach. Yet, the other volleyball coaches I speak with talk about not having funding to go to conference volleyball meetings or the National Championship (by the way, EVERY basketball coach goes to their championship, every single one while volleyball is lucky to afford to send the head coach), taking 5 hour bus rides to airline hubs to save a $150.00 a ticket, gutting the spring season tourneys to have recruiting money, etc. The sky is falling mentality was a great tool for administrators to take from those which could not afford to ensure that those who have too much continue along the same path.

International Players - There usually is some type of concern, outcry, proposal about international volleyball players every few years. The reason that international volleyball players are recruited by USA schools is because they are good and they will come play for a school. I believe our elite players are as good or better than any other country's elite players, but because softball, soccer and basketball are not supported internationally like they are here in the USA, there is a larger talent pool available. Just imagine if volleyball was the only viable athletic option for females in the USA? Can you imagine the sheer number of really good volleyball players - It would be huge! That is what Brazil has, and Puerto Rico has, and France has, and the Czech Republic has, and Serbia has, etc. The reality is that if obtainable USA players were better than obtainable International players, then there would be limited international volleyball players in the NCAA.

Well, enough of me.

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