AVCA’s DeBoer on volleyball: “I’m as optimistic as I’ve been in a long time”

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From Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for the Division III championship to the NAIA championship last week in Sioux City, Iowa, and back to the home office in Lexington, Ky. to this week in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the NCAA Division II championship, AVCA executive director Kathy DeBoer is literally all over the map.

And it’s always interesting to catch up with her this time of year as she and her staff prepare for their version of the Super Bowl, the AVCA Convention in Columbus, Ohio, that coincides with the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship.

This one has a chance to be biggest yet.

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AVCA executive director Kathy DeBoer

“Each Tuesday in our staff meeting we look at not only the convention numbers for this particular year but we go back seven years to see in each category to see if we’re ahead or behind” said DeBoer, who admits to being numbers obsessed.

“We have a chance to have the largest convention we’ve ever had in Columbus.

“We’re running neck and neck with the Louisville convention (with about 2,400 attendees) we had in 2012. We’re slightly ahead and if historical trends continue and we pick up 160 to 190 on site, we’ll have the largest convention we’ve ever had.”

DeBoer goes non-stop at the convention.

“I have as many face-to-face interactions with as many AVCA members as possible, particularly in the context where they are meeting about issues in their particular area. I go to a lot of meetings.”

And not just NCAA, but those involving high school, club and, well, everything. She also makes sure to visit with AVCA sponsors.

In addition there’s an AVCA board meeting on Tuesday of next week and DeBoer, the former head coach at Kentucky, has her last meeting scheduled for Sunday morning, the day after the national-championship match.

Illinois coach Kevin Hambly just finished his term as past president. Christy Johnson-Lynch, the Iowa State coach, is midway through her two-year term as AVCA president. Mark Rosen of Michigan will follow her.

They are overseeing a sport that is doing very well.

“I’m as optimistic as I’ve been in a long time for a couple of different reasons,” DeBoer said. “One is the steady growth that we saw in the early 2000s is continuing and the reason I’m optimistic because in the middle of that we’ve had the great recession. We’ve also had other organizations great real aggressive. AAU has grown tremendously, USA Volleyball is growing at six or seven percent every year and the JVA is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

“Collegiately we were at 96 percent of the schools having women’s volleyball and we still are 96 percent.

“What’s exciting is what’s starting to happen with our fan base,” DeBoer said. “I’d love to tell you it’s happening absolutely all over the country — it isn’t — but we are showing steady growth at the attendance at (the NCAA Tournament). We don’t have official numbers yet, but we look at the unofficial numbers for the first and second rounds and we’ve averaged 2,700 per night.”

She said that’s the second-highest ever and then the change with top four seeds being hosts for the regionals will obviously boost attendance. There have already been more than 13,000 tickets sold for the semifinals in Columbus.

She’s also excited that ESPNU will carry four of the eight first-round regional matches Friday.

“We’ve been winning the participation battle and we haven’t been winning the spectator battle and we’re now starting to see some traction in the spectator marketplace,” DeBoer said.

“The last hurdle is the ratings battle. We’ll have to see if our spectator numbers are going up and there’s more of the championship on television does that help our ratings? Because we haven’t had a lot of success there yet.”

DeBoer is always looking for ways to grow the game and, for lack of a better term, think outside the box about volleyball. That’s why the NAIA tournament was intriguing to her.

“It always strikes me during this time of year is  how the different sectors do college volleyball in their own unique ways,” DeBoer said. “The NAIA has about 225 women’s volleyball teams. By the way, they have almost 40 men’s and will be sponsoring a men’s championship in the next couple of years. But they have those 225 women’s teams and they have 24 of them that come to their national championship. Many of them are small, private schools with a religious founding basis.

“And they have unlimited substitution, which they went to about 12 or 13 years ago, so their teams are 20 kids. Nobody’s keeping track of subs. You can use serving subs and defensive subs and blocking subs. The core group of kids for each team is the same, it’s not like you’re gonna walk in and not recognize the sport.”

The NAIA, DeBoer said, starts with pool play with the top two teams advancing from each pool into the round of 16. It’s a busy few days.

“It’s a lot, a lot of play, but this is also part of the intercollegiate experience,” DeBoer said. “They don’t apologize for the fact that there’s a lot of play. And you get to be there for a week to determine the national championship.”

Click here for the AVCA main page and here for more information about the AVCA Convention.

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