In the process of researching the DIII – JV post and as I was communicating with a number of DIII coaches, the topic of beach volleyball came up. Beach volleyball was recently in the news as they just completed their third ever championship and maybe that is what stirred their passion. And passion is the right word here as the coaches I spoke with would love for a beach volleyball program to come to their school. Like today.
I certainly enjoy the sport and have made treks to different venues when my sister was on the tour. I have played enough to know how difficult the sport is and how different the game is to the indoor version. But, before talking to these coaches I certainly didn’t have a passion for it to be included into the DIII college landscape. Their passion is derived for the love of volleyball and their desire to grow the game. Defending national champion CMS Head Coach Kurt Vlasich loves the action and how viewer friendly it is. He sees it as a natural extension of the changes made to the indoor game that made it more viewer friendly (“evolution of rally score, let serves, hand passing, etc.”). Cal Lutheran Head Coach Kellee Roesel is more direct when she says it “blows her mind” that the southern California schools haven’t embraced beach volleyball, yet. I have to say as I talked to these coaches, their passion was contagious, but having a devious mind I was also struck with how starting a beach volleyball program would also have a tremendous impact to a school’s indoor program. It also became clear to me that the schools that could benefit most from this program the soonest would be the members of the SCIAC.
Currently, there are only three DIII schools that have a beach volleyball program – Stevenson, Huntingdon and Principia. None of these schools are close to each other but they all manage to play each other along with other DI and DII programs (in addition to NAIA and 2-year colleges). Now picture the SCIAC where the member schools are all an hour away as the bird flies (or 3 days if you account for SoCal rush hour traffic). These schools also have access to a large clump of 2-year colleges in the area that support the program as well as two NAIA schools, two DII schools and six DI schools (three of which made the championship tournament this year). It all seems like a natural for the SCIAC to take the lead in the DIII beach volleyball world, right?
Here’s the indoor game changing aspect that the SCIAC is missing out on right now and that’s recruiting top notch student athletes that want the beach volleyball experience. Since beach volleyball plays during the spring season, these athletes certainly would be available during the indoor fall season, as well. It just makes sense with the limited number of schools offering beach volleyball programs that this would give them a steep advantage over schools that don’t have the program. As a reminder, that’s a recruiting advantage over every DIII school in the nation except for three.
The gotcha is always going to be money but each of the SCIAC schools already have a volleyball staff in place so it really comes down to facilities. Southwestern University Head Coach, Don Flora, indicated that a minimum of 3 sand courts and up to 5 (the ideal) would be needed to support the program. Certainly an extra expense but I wouldn’t think this is prohibitive. It seems like in the early stages of a beach volleyball program, with respect to the SCIAC, schools could make use of existing sand courts. Coach Roesel was kind enough to point out that the SCIAC schools are all kind of close to a beach after all. The other bonus to a beach volleyball program are the additional female student athletes that would get counted under Title IX to offset the men’s sports (offsetting football is a constant issue under Title IX).
Speaking of Southwestern, which definitely does not belong in the SCIAC, how would a beach volleyball program in the middle of Texas work out? (Southwestern University is located in Georgetown, which is just north of Austin.) Well, I can guarantee you that the passion is there from Coach Flora but what about opponents? The benefit that Southwestern has is that it is centrally located between the schools that offer beach volleyball in the state. Currently, Texas has DI programs TCU (Go Frogs!), Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. There are also two DII programs in Tarleton State and Texas A&M-Kingsville. That’s 6 schools within a 4 hour drive. There are also a number of DI programs in Louisiana that could be accessible without taking a flight. The kicker for Southwestern is that it would have a HUGE competitive advantage when it came to recruiting in Texas as they would be the only DIII school with a beach volleyball program. (Although I’d be willing to bet large sums of money that rival Trinity University wouldn’t stand on the sidelines if this came to pass.)
If you follow beach volleyball then you probably caught some of the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship on television. Even though individual teams consist of 2 players, there are 5 teams competing for the school (usually at the same time). You can pick and choose the action to watch and as matches end, the fans (and teammates) start moving towards the active matches. As Coach Vlasich said, “…players were yelling and screaming, and a true passion was playing out in front of our eyes.” Right now there are not nearly enough schools that support beach volleyball for there to be a championship at the DIII level, but that hasn’t stopped the AVCA from putting together the first Small College Beach Championships. It took place in April where Texas A&M-Kingsville won the DII bracket while Webber defeated DIII Stevenson to take the DIII/NAIA/CCCAA bracket.
Bottom line is that beach volleyball is going to happen at the DIII level; it’s just a matter of when. The schools and conferences that can get out in front will have an early recruiting advantage to not only their beach volleyball program but also their indoor program. Recruiting aside, just getting more student-athletes involved in this great game is what coaches like Roesel, Vlasich and Flora really care about. I can’t wait for their efforts to pay off.