Terry Pettit: “Worst of times” for college volleyball, most difficult to be a coach

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Terry Pettit at Nebraska when the volleyball court was named for him/Nebraska photo

Terry Pettit lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, where the retired legendary volleyball coach still mentors other coaches. The volleyball court at Nebraska, where he coached the Huskers to the 1995 NCAA title, is named for him. He is also the former director of Leadership Academies at the University of Denver and Colorado State University. Pettit, an author and avid golfer, follows all sports closely, especially NCAA women’s volleyball. 

By Terry Pettit for VolleyballMag.com

If Charles Dickens was writing a novel about college volleyball today, it might begin, “It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times.”

On Sunday, commissioners from the Power 5 conferences were meeting to discuss the future of college football this fall. It is generally understood that if football doesn’t play than neither will women’s volleyball and other sports such as cross country, soccer and field hockey.

Ten non-Power 5 conferences have already taken the initiative to cancel fall sports with the possibility of playing women’s volleyball in the spring semester. It is interesting that conferences that do not generate the revenue that the Power 5 schools do have assumed a leadership role in canceling fall sports. For some time now, most of us suspected how this would play out, although there was one athletic director who was still promoting a full stadium of football fans as recently as two weeks ago.

Recently, I had the opportunity to email several volleyball coaches in the Power 5 (some people are now referring them to the “football five) conferences. I asked them if they anticipated that either football or volleyball would be played this fall.

Not one of them thought football would be played at their school, and all but one thought that volleyball wouldn’t be played, either.

The reasons for not playing any contact sport are obvious. There are several reasons coaches gave for not being optimistic about a volleyball season. The Pac-12 and many other conferences do not generally charter aircraft for team travel in volleyball. The logistics for coordinating team travel — such as sanitizing hotel rooms — would be a nightmare. 

Terry Pettit when he was the coach at Nebraska/Nebraska photo

Even more challenging would be the decisions about who to isolate if a player contracted Covid-19. It is highly unlikely any team could get very far into its season before matches would be cancelled. Losing a fall season of competition is frustrating. Going week to week not knowing whether or not you could field a competitive team or whether or not you would have someone to play would create even higher anxiety of for coaches and players.

On August 21 — which is just 11 days from now — the NCAA Board of Governors is going to announce whether or not there will be fall seasons for football and other NCAA sports.

So why the delay and we already know the answer?

Because the NCAA and the “football five” have been in a land war to determine the future of college football. More accurately, college football played by schools that generate millions of dollars in TV revenue and compete for national championships. (Although the latter seems to be dominated by the Power 2 the last five years.)

On August 1, Sports Illustrated reported that the Power 5 was exploring the idea of conducting their own national championship in football if the NCAA did not. The NCAA undoubtedly sees this as a threat for the ACC, SEC, BIG Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 to form their own governing body, run their own championships, and purchase controlling shares of the World Bank. (Well maybe not the last part.)

The NCAA, by delaying its decision until August 21, is hoping that by then everyone — at least everyone not living at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue — concludes that the coronavirus is operating on its own timeline and putting college athletes, coaches, support staffs, and fans at risk is not a prudent thing to do, especially when you consider liability issues.

I do not think there has ever been a more difficult time to be a coach.

Even when we finally understand that our best hope is to move college volleyball to the spring, there will still be tremendous uncertainty.

Will assistant coaches be furloughed?

If we lose the entire year, how many of our seniors would want to return?

Will my school have the resources to allow them to return?

What if players decide to leave and go home?

Do I need to worry about the transfer portal?

Will we be losing so much money in basketball and football revenues that Olympic sports are dropped or lose significant funding?

How do I take care of myself when I am spending so much energy trying to take care of others?

Volleyball has made tremendous strides in recent years, in terms of popularity, participation, visibility on television and fan support. Coaches are the caretakers of this progress and multiple visions of what our sport can be. Now is not the time for volleyball coaches to isolate themselves, although a health crisis is pushing us to do so.

The NCAA, your conferences, and your athletic directors will only continue to support the sport if there is an energized front that witnesses for the opportunities created by the game you believe in. 

If that happens, then “the best of times” is possible.

Order one of Terry’s books or contact him through his website: terrypettit.com

6 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been a fan for the past year. Not so much anymore with your cheap, useless insult of our President. There was no need for it in this article. I’m sure you thought it was clever. I didn’t.

    • I’m not sure if you’ve been a fan of the magazine or Terry Pettit -the author of the article – for the past year. But the magazine didn’t create the article, so your ire toward them may be misguided. It only printed Pettit’s words and it (the magazine) may not share the same opinion as Pettit. My reading was that Pettit referenced someone living at a non-existent address (1400 Pennsylvania Avenue) so not the President. The article also stated, essentially, those persons living on PA Ave don’t share the same opinions of the virus as everyone else. I saw no insult printed or implied – only a difference of opinions.

  2. While it is tough to be a VB coach, I consider myself somewhat lucky in that I will be able to practice and hopefully compete this fall provided various health guidelines are met. But he didn’t mention in the article (although I did to a former player in a PM) recruiting will be tough as the various high schools around the country will be playing during the traditional club season. I have a lot of slots to fill as I rebuild a program. I also am not getting an assistant coach this year (luckily my team is not large).

    I guess the one thing I wish were considered in the article is that the Power 5 do not dictate what happens to all schools and perhaps the way the pandemic affects different divisions and conferences in diverse ways.

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