It was on Wednesday, June 18, when the AVP announced that there would be professional volleyball this year. A truncated season, anyway. Just three events. Eight teams directly in the main draw, only 12 competing in the qualifier.
Didn’t matter. It was a season.
The players celebrated, even the ones who had no shot at being in the tournament, no matter how weird the partnerships get.
The season is this: Three tournament weekends in a row in Long Beach, California, July 17-19, July 24-26, and July 31-August 2. There will be streaming and TV coverage, but no fans. The AVP is calling it the “2020 AVP Champions Cup Series.”
Josh Glazebrook allowed a moment for the weight to be lifted off his shoulders — the weight of attempting what he called “the impossible,” putting on a season in which numbers would be tight, fans wouldn’t be allowed, in a venue that would host sports for a reasonable price, under conditions that didn’t require their players to wear hazmat suits.
Glazebrook is the AVP’s senior vice president and utility man.
“Two or three months ago,” he said, “nobody knew what the hell was going to happen.”
And by nobody, he does mean nobody.
The NBA didn’t know what it was doing. Ditto for every other major sporting organization: MLB, NHL, PGA Tour. Hell, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t know what was going to happen.
Messaging from the news conflicted with the WHO, which conflicted with the CDC. The AVP, like virtually every other sporting entity, was left to think, “Oh crap, this is nuts,” Glazebrook recalled.
“Once the quarantines happened, we kinda just went on quiet mode for a week and a half, two weeks, just watching the news every day: What’s going to happen? Is this a three-week thing? A five-week thing? A year thing?”
Then the Olympics, an event that hadn’t been cancelled since World War II, were postponed.
“It was a good indication of where we were at sports wise,” Glazebrook said.
Where they were was an impossible situation. Putting on events as scheduled was out of the question. But failing to put on any events, and potentially losing partnership deals, TV contracts, sponsors, fans — that was also out of the question.
“Over the next three weeks, every sport entity was talking about that: How do we run things without fans, how do we keep our staff, our athletes, our production people safe in that kind of environment?” Glazebrook said. “The answers were ‘There’s no way.’ We went on autopilot for a week or two. We didn’t have any answers.
“Half the country was going one way, half the country was going the other. There were the overly cautious people and the screw it we’re doing whatever we want people. Political factions started to form, everyone had an opinion, and it got weirder and weirder.”
They brainstormed from their own homes, calling or Zooming in every day or every other day. As the country divided, it became clear that the one thing it needed perhaps more than anything else was being touted as potentially one of the most dangerous: sports.
At the end of April, on one of their calls, AVP owner Donald Sun made the call: They were going to make it happen. They were going to put on a season. Didn’t matter the odds, or if it had to be on Christmas day.
The world was going to have beach volleyball, one way or the other.
So they picked up their phones and started dialing. Anybody who had access to a warehouse, a facility, a parking lot — anything where sand could be poured and nets could be erected — got a phone call.
They looked at warehouses up and down the coast of California. They talked to LMU, USC, UCLA, and Cal Poly about potentially using their on-campus facilities. They called folks in Arizona, Florida, Texas. They checked in with Matt Olson, an AVP champ who has his own facility in Del Mar, just outside of San Diego.
“Ninety-five percent of the answers were ‘We’re sorry, it’s too much of a risk,’ ” Glazebrook said. “And we expected that.”
But they had that five percent. Six or seven leads to go on. It wasn’t much. But it was enough.
They wanted a natural beach. But a natural beach requires a minimum of four approvals: City, state, health and coastal commissions. So they narrowed their focus further: Somewhere off the beach, in California, with a parking lot big enough to hold the event.
Andrew Young, the AVP’s director of operations, found a lead at the Long Beach Convention Center.
Everything about it fit the bill.
For two weeks, the AVP put together an operations manual, detailing “how we’re going to run this, how we’re going to work together as a team to make it safe, functional, according to spec, checking all the boxes to make it safe for every single human being that’s there, having a count for every human being that’s there, what zone they would be, what access they had, how often they’d be in and out of the area, the testing protocols,” Glazebrook said.
Three weeks ago, they got their approval: The Convention Center was in. The AVP had four and a half weeks to use it, with approval for three days of competition per week.
As soon as one massive weight came off the AVP’s shoulders, another was immediately dumped on.
They had their season. Now they have to pull it off.
How in the world were they going to run a world-class tournament with just over 150 people allowed on site at any given time?
They brainstormed every iteration in which to run a tournament. Some versions were bigger draws, single elimination, running teams in and out of the site like a Gatling gun to keep the numbers down. Others were smaller, safer, easier to pull off but potentially less popular among the players.
“We got crazy,” Glazebrook said.
In the end, the format they chose is far from crazy. Six teams from each gender are directly into the main draw. The additional two spots will be awarded from a 12-team qualifier.
Here you may be wondering the obvious question: If 24 teams can be allowed on site for the qualifier, why not have a bigger main draw? It’s a fair question.
With numbers as tight as they are, there will be no media present during the qualifier. For the main draw, there will be TV teams and additional staff on site. It’s essentially a trade: Extra teams on Friday are being swapped for staff, TV and media crews on Saturday and Sunday.
Not a perfect world, but it’s something.
“We had to balance what’s best for our brand, what’s best for our partners and what’s best for the athletes,” Glazebrook said. “What’s a quality product that we can put out that doesn’t get anyone injured or hurt that doesn’t compromise the sport?”
In three months, the AVP left no stone unturned. Yes, they looked to the states with looser restrictions, like Florida, where the NBA will be finishing its season. It didn’t add up, either for the AVP or its players, who would have to stay together in the same hotel in Florida, away from family, friends, jobs, their lives. They tried public lands and private warehouses. They tried natural beaches.
In the end, they pulled off almost idyllic result: Half an hour from the AVP’s Costa Mesa headquarters, in a town that has produced one incredible talent after the next, in the heart of Southern California.
“We’re ready to start working,” Glazebrook said. “That buzz starting up again and although it’s weird, and we’ll have to wear a mask, and I can’t hug anybody, it’s good to be working again, and working towards a goal. Beach volleyball is back.”