The AVCA held a round-table discussion last Thursday in Kansas City where participants discussed the possibility of converting college beach volleyball from a team sport to an individual sport with the goal of increasing participation.
Kyle Waterstone, USC’s director of athletic compliance, believes that it makes sense for the sport.
“Beach volleyball started out of indoor volleyball and those rules made sense at the time, but as the sport evolved and grew, the way that the rules are set up, it doesn’t quite fit the culture of beach volleyball as a sport,” Waterstone said.
“The sport is more of an individual sport, where pairs play in various tournaments as juniors every single weekend, but when they come to college, it‘s currently classified as a team sport, so if they’re not competing for their school, they can’t compete at all during the school year.
“What we’re trying to do is switch that classification to become an individual sport and increase participation. We’re trying to identify opportunities for athletes to participate in more events more often whether or not their program can afford it or not.”
Switching to an individual sport would open the door to allow student athletes to play in events during the year outside of the college framework. The changes currently under preliminary discussion and could be implemented as soon as 2020. First a conference would need to sponsor a proposal in late spring 2018 for voting in 2019, which would then take effect for the 2020 season.
USC coach Anna Collier said the change would help players who don’t make the top five pairs at a school.
“For me, it’s for the players who aren’t on the starting team,” Collier said. “I think that if you come to college and want to play beach volleyball, and you end up on team 7-8-9, because we’re carrying close to 20, there is really no substitution.
“So if there is another opportunity for you to compete in another tournament, where you could compete and improve your skills, I think it puts you in a better position where you can fight for that 5 spot.
“If you’re just training all year, and you’re not competing, it’s difficult to improve in a competitive situation. And at SC, as you may have noticed, we compete more than anyone. I believe in competition. If I’m a collegiate athlete, I would like the chance to compete even though perhaps I’m not on the starting roster whereby I could compete in a CBVA or some other form of a tournament.
“If they’re good enough to play in an AVP qualifier, I’m thinking that that is going to help make them a better player.”
A second benefit would be that individuals would be able to collect prize money on a calendar basis rather than event basis, Waterstone said.
“Right now they can only accept prize money on an actual or necessary basis for that event,” Waterstone said. “If an athlete pays $25 to participate in an event, they can only accept $25, no matter how much they win.”
Added Collier, “Let’s say an athlete plays in the CBVA Hermosa Open. It costs $25 to enter, and the athlete wins $100. The athlete has to leave the $75 on the table. As an individual sport, the athlete can use that money throughout the year to pay a $75 entry fee for next weekend’s tournament.”
“For tennis, we tell our athletes you can accept as much money as you want. We’ll find a way to spend it by the end of the year,” Waterstone said.
“You can’t just spend it on clothing or personal things, its for participation opportunities. That’s what it’s for. You can spend it on a flight or a hotel or an entry fee for a future tournament. It’s about finding opportunities for people that want to play.
“Some programs don’t have the funding to offer a full fall season. They can supplement their fall season by adding competitions themselves, but as it stands right now they’re not able to do that. If the college can’t pay for them to go they’re not going.
“Ultimately what it came down to is increasing participation. The group in general was for increasing participation, and they were also in favor of student-athletes being able to accept prize money.”
Now that the discussion has been started, colleges can evaluate the proposed changes and its impact on the athletes and the sport.
“I think it has a lot of positives,” Grand Canyon coach Kristen Batt-Rohr said. “I think that it’s important that beach volleyball create its own culture. I think that across the board everyone was OK with being able to accept prize money over the course of a year rather than a single tournament. There are a lot of benefits to that.
“There are pros and cons to being able to compete during the academic year, there are benefits to programs that are near the beach or areas that have access to a lot of tournaments.
“I have mixed emotions about that, but I think that it would help grow our sport. They should be able to play tournaments that are in their backyard.”
Grand Canyon’s roster has 22 players, two from indoors.
“Our rosters are getting bigger and it would give the athletes that are not getting the opportunity to travel and compete, Batt-Rohr said.”
University of North Carolina-Wilmington coach David Fischer said the changes could favor regions that have access to better competitions and weather.
“If passed, I’m not sure fans or juniors or many people would really notice — NCAA beach volleyball would still be a team sport. There seemed to be agreement from the college beach coaches at convention that student-athletes ought to be able to keep their summer competition prize money the way tennis players do,” Fischer said.
“My issue would be the new unlimited fall competition allowance that would favor the students who live near the strongest tournaments and the best weather. If we coaches want to make opportunities for our 6s, 7s, and 8s to compete, we can organize bigger events. Why not run more double-elim tournaments in the fall and the spring to give more players the chance to side out against players of different levels?”