If you’ve been following collegiate athletics, you know that the NCAA has all but canceled fall championships. As you’re reading this, they may have made their statement confirming the cancelation. The NCAA left the discretion up to the conferences to make their decisions and stated that if over 50% of the teams were not going to play, that they would cancel. Last week, that threshold was crossed. There are probably a million implications from these cancellations across all divisions and all sports, regardless of it being a fall sport or not. Here are some speculations of what this may look like for beach volleyball.
THE BAD - INDOOR POSTPONEMENT
As of today (August 21, 2020), there are still many questions about what the spring will look like for indoor volleyball. Will there be a “pre-season”? Will it be a condensed season with just conference play? Will the NCAA host a national championship? When will the championship be held? How many bids will be allotted for the championship? Will conference champions get an automatic bid? Below are some issues of indoor moving to the spring, despite not knowing exactly what it will look like yet.
Issue of Crossover Athletes: The one aspect that seems to be a sure thing is that IF women’s indoor has truly been “postponed” instead of “canceled”, there will be a serious overlap with the beach volleyball calendar. As of 2019, 41% of beach athletes also compete on their indoor team. How will coaches manage these athletes? From my experience coaching at Hawaii (2012-2015), where about 30% of our roster was duel-sport athletes, their priority during our beach season was always indoor. It made sense - that was the sport that was providing their scholarship. With indoor shifting their season to spring, I don’t think that the majority of these crossover athletes will be permitted to play beach.
For most top programs, this won’t have much of an impact as they may only have a few crossover athletes. However, for newer programs, lower D1, and other divisions, this could be devastating. If they don’t have ten beach-only athletes, they can’t field a team. This could amount to two lost seasons for beach-only athletes (2020 and 2021) and could further complicate the natural flow of the roster, especially for those athletes on scholarship. Will the NCAA grant ANOTHER redshirt waiver and permit seniors to hold onto their scholarships again? What would that mean for 2021 incoming recruits? 2022? The trickle-down effect could last for years to come.
Solution: We need to have a pairs championship in 2021 across all divisions. This will allow athletes to train, coaches to coach, and for these institutions to have a season that is based around pairs competitions. The reduction of athletes will lead to a smaller required budget, which will be welcomed in 2021 by all institutions, but still allow beach-only athletes to have a full season with a meaningful championship.
Issue of Crossover Staff: Outside of the Top 20 D1 schools, many programs still utilize a shared staff between indoor and beach. Typically, the head indoor coach is the “director of volleyball” and the associate or assistant coach leads the beach program. The universities that have their indoor staff coach their beach program are usually the same universities that have a significant number of crossover athletes. Unfortunately, the beach-only athletes again get the short end of the stick as indoor is generally the coach’s first priority. Even if beach was typically their priority during beach season, this spring the head beach coach will become exhausted from trying to manage two 20-hour training weeks and two unique competition schedules.
Solution: The head indoor coach has to give and release the head beach coach to run the program. Without a dedicated coach, the beach-only athletes will be completely disenfranchised and potentially consider transferring. Again pulling from my experience at Hawaii where the head beach coach was the associate indoor coach, our beach-only athletes felt as if they were a second-tier program. Even though they had an assistant coach on staff (me) and a phenomenal volunteer coach in Danny Alvarez who trained them year-round, they still weren’t happy that if there were any conflicts with indoor, the head beach coach was required to go to indoor. Since most indoor programs have an extended staff (even for smaller programs, it’s typically a head coach and two assistants), the indoor team can still function with this one-time exception.
THE UGLY - BUDGET CUTS
Even if we take football revenue out of the picture, universities will still struggle financially for the foreseeable future. Enrollment numbers are down and some tuition costs have been adjusted due to online schooling. Institutions aren't getting the revenue from dormitories and meal plans. On the athletic department side, sponsorship guarantees have been decreased and the small amount of revenue from ticket sales and tv deals from fall sports not named football are kaput. It is inevitable that cuts will be made.
Travel: It is likely that we won’t see as many, if any, East vs. West duel competitions that were so crucial to NCAA tournament selection and seedings over the past five years. I would anticipate that the two “at large” bids will be designated to one from the West and one from the East. As for NCAA tournament seeding, the committee may need to seed East 1-4 and West 1-4 and then integrate the two as best as they can. As the tournament format is double elimination, I think that this is an ok one-time solution in a cost-prohibitive season.
Recruiting: Even in a post COVID world, it is probable that college coaches will continue to do a higher percentage of their recruiting virtually due to budget cuts. National championships may have to adapt and offer a virtual option for college coaches to tune in… Or athletes may need to get clever with their devices and inviting college coaches to watch their stream.
Budget limitations will prohibit the usual “July spent in Hermosa” for many programs and may limit coaches recruiting opportunities to mostly day trips. This could have the lasting impact of more localized rosters, which I think could be a positive for building fansmanship.
Finally, the adaptation of Facetiming/Zooming/Google Hangout-ing is a silver lining for both parties in the recruiting process. Now it is a normal practice to chat with a prospective student-athlete face to face, instead of just on the phone. Both coaches and athletes can get a better understanding of each other and see if it’s a good fit. It goes without saying that in-person meetings are better, but frequent video calls are a close second.
Staff: Unfortunately, the first domino has fallen on beach volleyball coach cuts with the University of Hawaii head coach losing his position as the department made the decision to re-integrate the two coaching staffs. With athletic departments desperately needing to make budget cuts and most starting their beach programs with cross-over staff around five years ago, it’s, sadly, a logical but devastating decision to make. These institutions can easily look at their previous crossover staff budgets and compare to their budgets with full-time, dedicated beach staff and shave that difference. Heck, they had their staff like that once… Why can’t they do it again? This is a huge step backward for collegiate beach volleyball and is incredibly damaging to the beach athletes.
I wish I had a good solution here. I don’t. What other sport is a budget slash option to cut the head coach position? My advice for head coaches who are having anxiety around this issue would be the same with any type of job where the company needs to save money: Protect yourself. Study your budget. Find a way to save your salary cost in other budgetary areas. Decide if you’re comfortable with a one-year pay cut agreement. Suggest fundraising. Prepare options to discuss with your AD. Will it work? It certainly can’t hurt.
THE GOOD - SILVER LININGS OF COVID-19
Structure of the Sport: Beach volleyball appears to be one of the safest team sports to compete in during a pandemic. The AVP is one of the only professional sports organizations to run a series this summer without any COVID cases, despite not adopting the “bubble” format. Yes, they tested extensively, limited the number of people on-site, and took all the necessary precautions but it still was an impressive feat. *Sidenote - please AVP, host another three-week champions cup because that was the most fun I’ve had staying at home.* Beach volleyball is outside and small numbers. Aside from their own teammates, a pair could only have contact with two athletes from a different school in a “duel”. Furthermore, the tournament format and ability for pairs to compete in up to three duels in one day allow schools to limit their travel and meet the minimum number of NCAA competitions to be eligible for the championship.
Enrollment and Equivalency: This silver lining is advantageous to all equivalency sports. “Equivalency sports” can divide their scholarships between athletes whereas “counter sports” can only offer full scholarships. In beach volleyball, D1 programs can have up to six scholarships and can divide them between 14 athletes. The average roster size for beach volleyball is 16 athletes. This means that there is the equivalent of 10 tuitions being paid IF a university is fully funded with scholarships. If those tuition costs are higher than the program costs AND an institution is not getting to its maximum enrollment capacity, then the university is making a profit from that sport.
With enrollment numbers expected to drop significantly for the foreseeable future, post-pandemic addition of equivalency sports could be an advantageous move for universities. Not convinced? Check out this article here that explains it way more eloquently than I can.
When all is said and done, 2020 is the year that will have a lasting and serious impact on collegiate athletics as we know them. All of the implications across the different divisions and sports can’t possibly be known until the pandemic ends and we can start being proactive instead of reactive. However, out of every catastrophe comes innovation and I think college sports are no different. Things may look quite different five years from now, but I think they will be better.
Questions, comments, concerns, something I got wrong? Would love to hear from you! Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.