Big AVP happenings: 8-city league starts in 2024, plus new tour format
November 13, 2023
November 13, 2023
Significant changes will hit the landscape of college beach volleyball in 2025, even as one telling question remains unanswered for the upcoming season.
The breakup of the Pac-12 Conference, home to several of the college game’s most successful programs, was a catalyst for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation to add beach volleyball to the sports it sanctions for the 2024-25 school year.
The addition to the Big 12 of three schools with beach-volleyball teams prompted that well-established league to add the sport for 2024-25. The news from both conferences broke last week and will take effect for the 2025 sand season.
The MPSF long has sponsored men’s indoor volleyball in its catch-all menu that includes swimming and diving, water polo and gymnastics. Its startup women’s beach lineup will include six teams displaced from the Pac-12 — USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, California and Stanford — along with Grand Canyon, which will move from the CCSA.
In most other sports, USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington will belong to the Big Ten, Cal and Stanford to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Grand Canyon to the Western Athletic Conference. UCLA, USC, Stanford and Grand Canyon are MPSF members in men’s indoor volleyball.
Some powerhouse sand programs will find a new home there, particularly USC and UCLA, the only teams to win NCAA titles since beach volleyball received full sanction in 2016. Grand Canyon, Stanford and Cal earned bids to the 17-team field for the 2022 NCAA Championship, in which USC defeated UCLA in the final to three-peat as national champs.
“Amidst so much change in the world of collegiate athletics, it is great to see the steps that are being taken in order to promote the growth and visibility of beach volleyball,” USC coach Dain Blanton said in a release from the MPSF. “USC joining the Big Ten Conference was certainly a huge step in the right direction, and we are excited to be able to maintain a high level of competition among the teams that we will join the MPSF with.
“The MPSF has been a fantastic partner throughout this process and has long served as a strong West Coast presence for so many sports, including men’s volleyball when I was a student-athlete (at Pepperdine).”
The Big 12 will have four teams: TCU, Arizona State, Arizona and Utah. The latter three joined the conference in the wake of the Pac-12’s collapse and the powerful Horned Frogs, a Big 12 member in other sports, will move over after a one-year stay in Conference USA. Ranked No. 1 in the AVCA poll for much of the 2022 season, TCU was an NCAA semifinalist, eliminated 3-2 by the champion Trojans.
The NCAA requires six members for a conference to gain an automatic bid to the national championship. In its release, the Big 12 noted, “Participation numbers will be brought to levels that allow the Conference to qualify for national championship tournaments.”
That might mean more present Big 12 members could add beach volleyball or the league might pick up affiliate members. Seemingly left out in the cold under this alignment are Florida State, LSU, South Carolina and Texas, which demonstrated its intentions of becoming a substantial presence on the sand by hiring Stein Metzger, formerly of UCLA, as coach. FSU was a semifinalist and LSU a quarterfinalist in the 2022 NCAAs.
The mass exodus from the Pac-12 will not occur until August, meaning the situation for the upcoming 2024 season is unchanged. The remaining sticky wicket is what’s going on with the CCSA, which is down to four teams and thus would not be eligible for an automatic NCAA bid.
In a wide-ranging interview with Volleyball Magazine on Friday, LSU Coach Russell Brock provided some clarity on the CCSA’s status. Brock’s Sandy Tigers have been a perennial national power, earning bids to the NCAA tourney in each of his seven seasons at the helm, and he was VolleyballMag.com’s 2018 National Coach of the Year. Russell’s products include Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, on a path to represent the USA in the 2024 Paris Games, presently No. 2 in the world in the Olympic beach rankings.
“Our efforts are trying to maintain our conference. We have four teams, all high-quality programs (FSU, LSU, Grand Canyon and South Carolina), and on our end of things, we have petitioned the NCAA to allow us to retain our automatic qualifier,” Brock told us. “That request is not necessarily unroutine, so we expect that will buy us a year. Particularly in a year when there is so much going on. It would give us some time to kind of get our feet on the ground and really have a better plan moving forward.
“It’s not as if that automatic qualifier (from the CCSA) would go to a team that shouldn’t be there. It’s probably going to be a team that wouldn’t need the automatic qualifier anyway to make the field. That’s the beauty of (these programs) being as good as they can possibly be, in that the automatic qualifier is a nice backup plan. (LSU) has been in the NCAAs every year since 2017 and we never have been an automatic qualifier, yet we’ve finished in the top five in the country over and over.”
The Coastal Collegiate Sports Association is another catch-all entity that also sanctions men’s and women’s swimming and diving, mainly for Eastern schools. It stepped into the breach during beach volleyball’s more formative years.
“Two or three years ago, we had 20 teams in our conference, but other conferences started picking them off when (the landscape) started changing,” Brock said. “Now next year will be no different, another big change. The Pac-12 dissolved, those teams have to go places and they have started to find some homes.”
Brock noted Grand Canyon’s exit from the league to the Big 12, but added that Texas, which will be a new member of the SEC, plans to join the CCSA in 2025. The Longhorns will remain as an independent in 2024.
“Our whole thought process is to keep our SEC schools — LSU, South Carolina and Texas — together. Our programs’ commitment is that we are going to stay together wherever we end up. If that ends up being the CCSA, Florida State would still be there, so the effort would be to fill in another couple gaps. But if we do something else, which is on the table as far as us exploring opportunities, then we will do that together.
“The master plan, the ultimate goal, would be to have a few more SEC schools launch their programs and then play for the very best championship you could play for in beach volleyball, an SEC championship. Perhaps the addition of Texas will influence some other SEC schools to be committed to starting, then we can get a true SEC going. But there is no timeline on that.”
In the shorter term, however, the option that perhaps provides the line of least resistance would be to fold the three SEC teams, plus FSU, into the Big 12. That would create a highly competitive eight-team league. South Florida, which competes in the American Athletic Conference in other sports, will add beach volleyball in 2025 and might be an addition to the Big 12. SEC member Florida has been rumored as possibly hopping on the beach bandwagon and the Gators would project as immediate national power.
“The Big 12 option definitely is one being considered,” Brock said. “The Big 12 is an established conference and they know how to run a league. They have bylaws and procedures that we would have to talk through. But those are matters for administrators, and we for sure are in the midst of those conversations to see what’s going to be best.
“How can we move forward while protecting our little group, and still look at opportunities to shift gears and do something a little bit different? We want to compete at the highest level against the best teams that we possibly can, and it’s a huge plus to have that conference affiliation and the automatic qualifier.”
Flipping back to the 2024 season, Brock emphasized that the CCSA likely would soldier on with four members even if the NCAA does not grant its waiver for its champion to receive an automatic bid to the NCAAs.
“It’s a matter of having that conference affiliation, and having the perks such as all-conference teams, the ability to create some value outside of actually playing for the championship even,” he said. “Those aspects as a collegiate student-athlete are valuable, they’re fun and they’re worth fighting for.”
That includes playing a conference tournament even if only for an added week of competition vs. practice time leading into the NCAAs, and the honor of being called CCSA champion.
“From my standpoint, a conference tournament would be well worth it,” Brock said. “For us to be able to play Florida State, South Carolina and Grand Canyon, even if it’s just us four, we can set it up with a pool leading into a little bracket, it makes a ton of sense. Any quality competition you get down the stretch is a huge benefit, a tremendous training opportunity, with the added bonus that we’re playing for a conference championship.”