January 11, 2011

College Sand Volleyball

Dear Coach:

I recently came across this post on your website regarding sand volleyball. I personally prefer sand volleyball over indoor volleyball so what I’m saying probably shows this bias.

I am trying to understand better myself why many volleyball people at the collegiate level consistently express this concern about sand volleyball being almost forcefully inserted into collegiate sports by the AVCA or any other group. Granted, I don’t know the politics of collegiate sports, but I have heard nothing saying that any and all schools MUST institute a sand volleyball program after inclusion into the NCAA sports curriculum. It’s a school by school decision. It’s the same premise I would think which dictates why some schools don’t have a football team or some other sports teams while perhaps everyone else (or most everyone else) in their conference does. Perhaps you can explain why this thinking seems so prevalent?

Also, this argument about sand volleyball adversely affecting the legitimacy of indoor volleyball doesn’t seem to hold up when you think in the bigger picture. Girls (and boys) should be given the opportunity to play the sport they love. If they love indoor volleyball, then play. If they love beach volleyball then play it. The participants of the sport should be a big driver in the evolution of sport. Thinking that indoor volleyball will someday be bigger than what is it now (with the thousands and thousands of girls who play it at the junior/college level) is ludicrous. From what I’ve heard, attendance level for indoor volleyball has never substantially increased for decades. Sand volleyball has a “coolness” factor both from a player and a spectator perspective that will probably some day make it more popular than indoor volleyball ever can. Participation levels, especially at the junior level, grow in leaps and bounds every year. Call it an evolution of volleyball in general. Maybe sand volleyball won’t become big ever but trying to diminish its possibilities in order to protect indoor volleyball isn’t fair. As someone who is not an insider to the world of college volleyball, I get the impression MANY college volleyball insiders are reluctant to see where sand volleyball can go because they’re not seeing the possibilities. Sure it’s different and a bit risky and the details need to be hammered out, but that is what makes getting involved early in the sport at the college level exciting too.

Anyways, just my two cents.

Regards, M.N.

Thanks for the email and I am traveling right now, so I am unable to give a complete response to your very valid points about sand volleyball and indoor volleyball. The Reader's Digest version response is that AD's don't care about the sport, just the fact that it can balance their equity counts, the funding for sponsorship (coaches, salary, players, budgets, time frames, etc.) will come in some fashion, if not initially all, from indoor volleyball, and the AVCA main concern is with generating more numbers for membership and thus revenue.

Thanks for the response. I’m honestly not surprised by the initial response from ADs. It’s probably the same response given to any new sport being considered for inclusion by the NCAA. Until they see the value or are pushed by alumni who donate to the university, the response will always be the same. The thing that is disappointing is that volleyball coaches (even ones with beach volleyball backgrounds) general don’t seem to be on board with the cause in many cases either. Granted, they probably see this as all leading to more work for them with little or no monetary gain on their part. I understand that thinking. But instead of dismissing the idea or complaining about it, they should at least offer some solutions especially if they truly love volleyball in general.

This again all goes back to the problem volleyball seems to have in general. People just can’t work together very well for the benefit of the sport. I see all the in-fighting amongst coaches at junior clubs all the way up to the problems between the AVP, USAV, and the FIVB. If everyone says they love the sport, they sure have a good way of showing it by creating factions all the time instead of agreeing to disagree sometimes but work together still. M.N.

OK - Now I have time to write.

To reference one of your points, it should be a red flag when college volleyball coaches, with a beach volleyball background, are against the premise of beach volleyball as a collegiate sport. One thing which an outsider (someone who is not a NCAA Volleyball coach) does not see, are the constant battles for basic program support for the indoor team (remember that we are playing the same time as King Kong (also known as football) and men's and women's soccer). Each and every volleyball season, college coaches are fighting to get gym time, to have the facility properly set up, making sure game management is acceptable, to get support in the weight room/training room/marketing department/media relations - and these battles are at just about every campus. Budgets are being cut and AD's are not finding extra money in the football or basketball budgets (they are the Holy Grail of any athletic department), but they are getting this needed money out of the Olympic Sports budgets. Volleyball coaches are in a never ending battle to secure support, and the prospect of having to now administer another sport, which will come at the expense of indoor volleyball, scares us plenty.

You are correct in your point that it is a school by school decision, but it is not a school coach by school coach decision. Look at it from a coach's point of view - More work, without more pay, less off time, reduces opportunity to focus on indoor volleyball in terms of recruiting and team training. Look at it from a school (Athletic Department) point of view - 10 to 12 female athletes can be additionally counted for Title IX Gender Equity numbers without having to provide anything other than minimal travel expenses. That is why the school by school rational does not sit well with college coaches.

You are also correct in that opportunities to play a sport, if the sport has a significant interest from a college age kids should be provided, but why should the indoor players/coaches who have no interest in sand/beach volleyball have to sacrifice support? Why do the indoor players have to give up training time, the attention/support of their coaches, access to the weight room/training room? I can promise you that while many indoor volleyball players enjoy playing pick-up games on the sand court, the idea this actually becoming another season with the acompanying grind of physical training, trips to the training room, the pressure of competition travel, the pressure to win, both internally and from coaches, is a completely different beast.

When you point out that indoor volleyball will not be bigger than what is is now, from a participation point may be valid, but from a professional support view, is not valid. This is possibly the biggest fear factor for college indoor volleyball coaches. Let me give you an example - In NCAA Division I athletics, Women's Basketball Head Coaches all (give me a +/- of 5%) enjoy salaries over $100,000.00, but for Women's Volleyball, this drops down to less than 20%? What about assistant salaries - It would be really nice if our 1st assistants were all clocking 75K plus, like in basketball, so they could actually pay bills, provide for a family without having to coach club for extra cash, gain experience before feeling pressured to jump to a head coach position for more money. Look at marketing support, look at staff support (how many Director of Operations are funded in WBB vs WVB?), look at television exposure, look at the National Championship, etc. When we look at each of these categories, and these are categories which directly affect the professional standing of being a college volleyball coach, Indoor Women's College Volleyball has a great upside.

There is a huge dissatisfaction with the AVCA among college volleyball coaches. The AVCA has really buried its head in the sand (some pun intended) when it comes to professional support of college volleyball and college volleyball coaches (every college basketball coach is on a multi year contract, and way too many college volleyball coaches are not - one would think this would be an important item for a college volleyball coaches association?). A bit of history - The AVCA put a lot of money (increased dues for DI coaches) and effort into trying to get indoor volleyball on television more than what was customary because the belief was that television was the magic wand to increase attendence, popularity and credibility of the sport, but they failed; our television coverage has not improved, beyond the natural curve, of what is was 10 years ago. Now, the AVCA is just pretending the whole indoor television focus never occurred and is now saying the best thing for indoor volleyball is outdoor volleyball. Have the USA Gold Medals of the Beach Volleyball in the Olympics translated into increased support for the Indoor Volleyball teams, is Indoor Volleyball now on television more? No and No.

What makes indoor volleyball coaches upset, is that this Sand/Beach volleyball entity is not supported by the mass of coaches simply because we know better than anyone at the AVCA or NCAA what we are facing. It is disheartening when all these surveys go out, we answer them and the results show majorities (either simple or overwhelming) not supporting initiatives, and then the initiatives are still put into action. For example the majority of college coaches did not support the survey to implement sand volleyball as a NCAA sport. More telling was in the Sand/Beach Volleyball override vote (which means enough schools, had serious second thoughts about this sport) at the AD's National Convention, over 60% of the NCAA Division I voting membership voted NO to Sand/Beach Volleyball, but the measure carried because of just a couple (literally just a couple) of yes votes.

As usual for our sport, and something you referenced in your email, is that a few powerful individuals like the idea and made it happen; we don't agree to disagree, we disagree and then those with power do what they want.
The AVCA was able to smoke screen the NCAA by saying, "all indoor players love to play sand volleyball and the college coaches would love to coach sand volleyball" - What is truly amazing is that the NCAA put this emerging sport onto the path of reality without the AVCA actually outlining an exact season of competition, length of season, what constitutes a competition, what qualifies as a team, etc. The AVCA just said, "trust us, they will love it".

I would have been much more supportive of the Sand/Beach Volleyball idea had the AVCA worked with USA Volleyball to make it a reality. USA Volleyball already has established some basic parameters and organization to support juniors and college sand/beach volleyball and it extends into the
FIVB. Let USA Volleyball, with the AVCA's support and encouragement, provide a summer sand/beach volleyball opportunity for college volleyball players. You have to believe USA Volleyball would garner a greater percentage of college athletes in sand/beach over the summer, than what they achieve in their various college age indoor development teams.

Per NCAA rules, we are not allowed to have coaching contact with our player in the summer, so I believe that many of the college coaches would be supportive of this opportunity for our players to touch the ball in a controlled, supervised environment. This idea would also allow the AVCA
and USA Volleyball to development a cadre of dedicated sand/beach volleyball coaches, who were outside of the college ranks. The entire enterprise could be run via the USA Volleyball Regional Offices, as many regions already have sand/beach volleyball protocols in place.

I am no big fan of USA Volleyball, but I would rather have this summer opportunity for my players to train and experience sand/beach volleyball, than face the very real consequence of having sand/beach college volleyball take away resources, time and staffing from indoor volleyball to play a sport that will never be anything more than a niche sport in the eyes of the NCAA and the general public.

Ok - Gotta keep going here...Sand/Beach volleyball has no calendar time frame to be successful during the college academic year. Think about it; it won't play in the fall because of indoor volleyball, it can't play in the winter because of weather (and indoor sand volleyball is a joke, and any true beach volleyball player/supporter knows that the outside conditions are an important component of being a sand/beach player), the spring finds the untouchables of March Madness in both basketballs, and then softball and baseball are perfectly positioned to finish out the school year, and I can absolutely guarantee you that they will not surrender any on campus support or national media support for sand/beach volleyball. University/college semesters are done in early May, with just a handful of schools going into June.

Better to have sand/beach volleyball as a summer opportunity via USA Volleyball, with the ability to use the USA Volleyball organization and development of specific sand/beach volleyball coaches, than to jam the sport into the NCAA when the majority of indoor coaches don't even want it!

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