Jerry Matacotta recalls what attendance was like at the first Molten Division III men’s volleyball invitational back in 1997.
“That first tournament, if there were 20 spectators, that was a lot,” says Matacotta, the commissioner of the former North East Collegiate Volleyball Association and a major advocate of men’s volleyball.
The final Molten tournament held this spring at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., was a bit of a different story.
“There were 1,300 spectators and the fire department came and said there couldn’t be any more people in there,” Matacotta said. “Three-hundred more people were outside that couldn’t get in and wanted to see Division III men’s volleyball...That told me where men’s volleyball is going in the future.”
Where it’s going in the immediate future is straight to something the Division III arm of the sport has been clamoring for and working hard to obtain in recent years—its very own NCAA Division III men’s volleyball tournament.
“Doug Beal (USA Volleyball CEO), Kathy (AVCA Executive Director DeBoer) and myself feel there will be 80-100 teams in Division III within five to eight years,” he said. “You saw the growth with lacrosse. Once you get that championship, good things occur. An NCAA championship gives credibility to the sport. You now have that championship as the end of the season goal.”
The NCAA formally adopted the Division III tournament as the association’s 89th championship at its 2011 convention earlier this year. The NCAA has sponsored a men’s volleyball championship (all divisions) since 1970, but sponsorship of men’s volleyball in Division III recently eclipsed the 50 institutions required for a single division to conduct its own championship.
“This is a great time for men’s volleyball,” said Matacotta, noting that this is the first new men’s NCAA championship since lacrosse gained one in 1985. “It’s a great time for men’s athletics in general. We’ve been close here for a lot of years.”
Fifty Division III teams were needed to qualify for a tournament, and once that number was reached, the process of getting together the financial backing for the tournament was started. In a landslide, the NCAA vote was 437-2 in favor of the tournament.
“We knew we would get there,” Matacotta said. “They budgeted for it, got the money and now it’s completely funded by the NCAA.”
The first NCAA men’s Division III finals will be held April 27-29 at Springfield College’s Blake Arena in Springfield, Mass., while the 2013 finals will be hosted by Stevens Institute of Technology April 26-28 at Canavan Arena in Hoboken, N.J.
“This is unbelievable,” said Matacotta, a CUNY history professor and a recent inductee into the AVCA Hall of Fame. One of the sport’s all-time good guys, Matacotta has been one of the driving forces behind the move to get a Division III tournament.
Matacotta stressed the establishment of the Division III tournament would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of many advocates.
“There were a lot of great people that put a lot of work into this,” he said. “All along, I never felt like we would not get it. I always felt like we would get the tournament. Things take time. You have to get USA Volleyball and the AVCA and the NCAA and all of the conference commissioners on board. We did it. We had a plan from the beginning. If you have good goals and you have a good plan to get something done, that equals success.”
Matacotta feels the creation of the tournament is only the start of greater things to come for the Division III men’s game.
USA Volleyball Region Services Program and Grants Coordinator Jeff Mosher said: “The effort to continue to grow the sport at this level is the result of a collaborative effort between many individuals, USA Volleyball, the AVCA and the NCAA and their member institutions. Every college that has added a new team has spent considerable time and energy making their dream become reality. The existing teams have supported the new teams by scheduling with them and assisting with the startup process. Everyone involved with Division III men’s volleyball has been dedicated to seeing that growth continue to occur.”
Matacotta notes most of that future growth is expected to occur in the Midwest.
“There are a lot of Division III schools in that region, it’s economically feasible and the distances to travel are not that great,” he says.
The feeling across the board is the creation of the Division III tournament will have a wide-ranging trickle-down-effect.
“Kids playing in junior high in Ohio, or Massachusetts, or Wisconsin or New York will have a men’s volleyball program be open to them so they can continue playing volleyball as long as they want to play,” Matacotta says. “This will make sure kids will have it part of their lives. They will have choices both academically and for volleyball that best fits their profile. I’m pretty proud of that.”
Mosher said high demand from high school players makes this growth possible.
“The players are the primary catalyst for the growth at every level of men’s volleyball,” he said.
Nazareth men’s coach Cal Wickens is excited about the academic synergy the tournament creates.
“It’s a great opportunity for a young man to go MIT or Nazareth or Stevens Tech and get fantastic degrees and still play a fantastic sport they have been playing for years,” Wickens says.
Baruch College sophomore middle blocker Steven Coniglio said he hopes the tournament will help increase the sport’s profile.
“I always try to look for volleyball on TV,” he said. “You can never really find it. Hopefully this championship will make the sport even bigger.”
But the 6-foot-6-inch Nassau County, N.Y., native says even though the postseason play will be of a different kind, the preparation will remain the same.
“Now this is going to be straightforward and organized. I’m excited about it for next year,” he said. “The motivation never changes. You always go out there to win.”
Speculation has abounded regarding the format of the tournament. The NCAA uses a 7:1 formula (7 schools for every tournament spot). Assuming current sport sponsorship holds, the tournament will debut as a nine-team field in 2012.
A first-round match between two teams will be played on the campus of the higher-seeded team and then the winner will join seven other teams for an eight-team tournament at Springfield.
For the 2012 Division III Men’s season, there are expected to be six automatic-qualifying conferences. As of press time, there are slated to be three Pool C berths (at-large bids).
The East region will feature the City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNY), the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, the New England Collegiate Conference and the Skyline Conference. Independent institutions in the East are MIT and Springfield.
The West region includes the Continental Volleyball Conference and the United Volleyball Conference. Independent schools in the West are Lancaster Bible College, Rust College and St. Joseph’s College (Brooklyn).
Springfield men’s coach Charlie Sullivan said he is looking forward to the new direction that NCAA Division III men’s volleyball is taking.
“We’re fortunate to be a part of this,” said Sullivan, whose team will play as an independent in 2012 after it, along with Juniata College and New York University left the predominantly Division I EIVA. “This will change our schedule, but we’re going to create a game plan to be successful. This is a new challenge for us on the horizon. Our goal is to get an at-large bid.”
For those looking well into the future, the NCAA men’s Division III tournament selection show will be held April 15, 2012 at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Molten’s 5000 Flistatec ball will be the official ball for the championship.
Originally published in August 2011