Why More Colleges Should Add Men's Volleyball as a Varsity Sport
Volleyball Is Gaining Popularity
In case you missed it, Beach Volleyball, or Sand Volleyball as it is called in college, is quickly growing in popularity in the United States. It recently became the fastest growing emerging sport in NCAA History in 2014 and was just confirmed as the NCAA's 90th championship sport. It was added at both the Division II and III levels at the NCAA Convention in January.
If you watched any of the past two Summer Olympics, you probably saw a ton of volleyball on television. And the United States' teams all did pretty well, bringing home medals in women's indoor, men's indoor, women's beach, and men's beach.
Currently indoor, there are 22 Division I Men's programs, 24 Division II's, and 104 Division III's. In the past few years, thirty-six colleges have added men's volleyball programs at the Division III level alone.
It is a sport that is growing and expanding at all levels of play from high school all the way to college and beyond.
Colleges Already Own the Core Equipment
Most colleges already have a women's volleyball program at their institution. Therefore, they already own the most expensive parts of a volleyball program; the poles, net, pads, and referee stands.
To start a program, you'll need some uniforms and a coach. That's not bad when you consider lacrosse programs needing pads, helmets, sticks, and goals. Football needs everything but sticks. And track equipment will cost an athletic director an arm and a leg.
Having a women's program already in the department means that much of the overhead is already covered. Adding a men's program becomes a fairly simple process.
Many Colleges Already Field Competitive Men's Club Programs
For years, a lot colleges have had club teams sponsored through their student governments. Many of those club teams participate in leagues and play in tournaments from October through April. They also have a national championship at the end of the year. In 2014, 192 men's programs took part in the NFVC Championships in five different divisions.
So for many colleges, there are already talented players at the university. It's just a matter of adding some structure to the mix and hiring a coach.
Volleyball Can Be a Revenue Sport
The American Volleyball Coaches Association and various conferences have done a very nice job of getting matches on television. This added exposure and the recent success of Penn State have fueled the increased popularity in the sport.
Ever since volleyball changed from the regular score (point only when a team serves) to rally score (point no matter who serves), it has allowed people to estimate how long a match will take. That has made it easier to broadcast on networks as they can allocate around an hour to two hours for a match.
This past year, Nebraska Women's Volleyball became one of the few programs in the country to be in the black, taking in $1.7 million dollars in revenue while having a budget of $1.3 million. Hawaii Volleyball has been a revenue generator for years and Penn State has the potential to join Nebraska in being able to bring in more than they spend (source). Recently, the topic was discussed in Wisconsin as well in an article with the head coach, Kelly Sheffield.
Overall, only twenty FBS schools bring in more than they spend according to the NCAA report on finances. Every other program operates at a loss in Division I. No Division II or III athletic departments operate in the black (source).
Men's Volleyball is Physical and Exciting
No offense to cross country, but there are sports in the NCAA that are just downright boring to watch and that don't draw many in terms of student support. Tennis would fit into this category as well.
Men's volleyball is a very powerful sport and it is very physical. People really enjoy watching sports with those two characteristics. The average spike in the men's game will be traveling between 50 and 60 miles per hour. At the Olympic level, it gets even higher, between 70 and 80 miles per hour.
That kind of speed and force is what makes the men's game exciting to watch.
A Men's Volleyball Program Can Enhance the Volleyball Culture at a University
Many schools that have added a men's volleyball program also see gains from their women's program in the same sport. In 2014, Penn State and BYU battled for the national championship. Of the four teams that were in the women's Final 4, three have men's volleyball programs at their institutions.
In Division III, universities with men's programs saw women's teams win championships in 11 of 19 possible conferences (AMCC, CCIW, Commonwealth, CUNY, Empire 8, GNAC, Landmark, NECC, NACC, Skyline, SUNYAC). Teams were runners-up in 3 others (Capital, NEAC, NEWMAC). So of the 19 conferences where women's teams who have a men's team compete, they were first in 11 and first or second in 14 of them.
Having Men's Volleyball Helps Game Management
At some levels of collegiate volleyball, in order to keep expenses down, many schools still use student workers to do their scorekeeping and lines judging. It is one of the few sports that still has students performing officiating duties during the competition.
Often times, at programs without a men's team, there can be issues on both fronts. The match can be slow if the scorekeeper is untrained and teams may not want to come back to your institution if the lines judges cannot perform their duty adequately.
Having a men's programs assists on the game management front. At schools with both programs, it is very common for the men to do the lines judging and scorekeeping for the women's games and the women's team to do them for the men's game. Allowing players who have had experience with the job to do it will help to prevent game management issues.
One in Seven Teams are Nationally Ranked
With 104 teams and an American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) National Poll that ranks fifteen, the chances of earning a ranking are better than most sports. About one in seven if you're scoring at home. One in five if you count those at the end of the poll that receives votes.
One thing college administrators enjoy is the hype that comes with having a team ranked nationally. And currently, "the odds are ever in the favor" of men's volleyball teams. And with so few teams, many teams will play a handful of those nationally-ranked teams each year. That's something that is very marketable in terms of bringing in good fan support.
Volleyball and Football Can Coexist
There's a misconception that schools with football programs cannot have men's volleyball programs due to Title IX considerations. But there are plenty of universities that have both at all levels of the NCAA.
In Division I, of the 22 universities that sponsor men's volleyball, 7 also have football. At Division II, there are 6 of 24 that have both. While at Division III, 37 of the 104 college programs (35.5%) also had football as of the 2018-19 season.
There are currently 249 Division III colleges and universities that sponsor football. While the crossover can be difficult, it is not impossible. Considering there are 443 Division III's in total and 67 non-football universities that already sponsor men's volleyball, that leaves another 127 universities that have neither sport.
Currently, men's volleyball is on the edges of the country. There are teams in California and all along the east coast. Recently, there has been expansion in the midwest as schools in Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin have all added teams. Minnesota, Texas, and the Pacific Northwest have been hesitant to add teams however.
Volleyball is growing quickly in the United States. It is very popular at the high school, club, college, and adult levels. There are women's programs, men's programs, and now sand volleyball programs being created at all levels and locations around the country.
It is a very exciting sport with low costs and that brings in decent crowds. In the women's game, programs are beginning to become profitable as the television market has been expanded and the venues have grown.
Adding men's volleyball can assist with game management at lower divisions and there can be a winning culture created within the athletics department. All-in-all, it's a very good bandwagon to be jumping onto.