A month from today in Chicago, the Big Ten is putting on a volleyball first. The first of its kind, a football- and basketball-style women’s volleyball media days, a Monday-Tuesday gathering of all 14 head coaches and some of their star players.
What in the world might we talk about …
Yeah we’ll talk some 2022 volleyball.
But we’ll also talk some 2024 volleyball.
After the Big Ten turned the college sports world upside down on Thursday when it announced that UCLA and USC were bolting the Pac-12 and in 2024 and will become really B1G members, just consider what that will mean for volleyball.
It’s not likely that volleyball entered into the negotiations, but volleyball is us and in terms of volleyball, this is seismic.
The first thing to remember is that it’s not for two years. That means this fall and in 2023, UCLA and USC will still compete in the Pac-12.
But it will certainly have an immediate impact on recruiting, not only for UCLA and USC, but for all 14 current Big Ten programs. And note the word current. This is not the last you will hear about teams changing conferences.
But in the short term, understand that the college volleyball world revolves around the Big Ten.
When the USA won our country’s first women’s volleyball Olympic gold-medal last summer, nine of the 12 players came from the Big Ten.
Take away Stanford’s incredible run when it won the NCAA title in 2016, ’18 and ’19, well, think B1G.
Starting in 2006, Big Ten programs have won the NCAA title 10 out of 16 times. In that span, UCLA won it all in 2011 — the last time a Pac-12 team won until the Stanford run — Texas won in 2012, Stanford had its three titles, and Kentucky won in 2020 before another Big Ten team, Wisconsin, broke through last December. Also during that time, six Big Ten teams lost in the championship match.
The first NCAA women’s volleyball tournament was in 1981. Between then and 2019, just 10 programs had won it all, including UCLA four times and USC three.
Stanford has nine titles, Penn State seven and Nebraska five. Hawai’i and Long Beach State have also won three times, Pacific and Texas have won twice, and Kentucky and Washington one each.
Washington won it all in 2005, significant because it was the last in a five-year run of Pac-12 teams winning the NCAA title.
Kentucky became a first-time winner in 2020, beating Texas in the final in the first NCAA championship match since 1989 that didn’t include a Pac-12 or Big Ten team. In 1989, Long Beach State beat Nebraska, which was then in the Big Eight, and, of course, is now in the Big Ten.
Are California girls gonna flock to the Big Ten? They haven’t been, but that’s going to change.
After checking all 14 2022 B1G rosters, there are currently just 11 players in the league from California, only a few stars.
Northwestern has three, returning freshman libero Bella LeSage, who is from Manhattan Beach, and two incoming freshmen, setter Sienna Noordermeer from Lake Forest and middle Kennedy Hill from Sherman Oaks.
Maryland has two California players, standout junior middle Laila Ricks, who went to high school in Redondo Beach after living in Virginia, and senior DS Lexy Finnerty, who is from Encinitas.
Penn State has freshman libero Mandi Morioka from Torrance, Michigan has senior middle May Pertofsky from Los Angeles, and Indiana has setter Emily Fitzner from San Diego’s Torrey Pines.
For what it’s worth, two of the head coaches are from California. Nebraska’s John Cook, who has lived in either Nebraska or Wisconsin since 1989, grew up in Chula Vista and went to the University of San Diego. And Chris Tamas of Illinois grew up in Santa Barbara and played at Pacific.
Anything can happen — with even more teams joining the Big Ten and a split into divisions — but the volleyball coaches have to hope that they can guarantee recruits that they’ll be making a two-match Los Angeles trip every fall. Which could lead us into a conversation about travel — L.A. to Newark to play Rutgers, for example? — but that’s for another time. but the shortest road trip for the SoCal schools will be to Lincoln, Nebraska.
UCLA finished second in the Pac-12 last year. If the Bruins went into the Big Ten this fall, where would they finish? Top five? Maybe.
USC has been down and finished seventh last year in the Pac-12. There’s every reason to think that USC is on an up escalator, but if went to the Big Ten this year? Maybe eighth, maybe ninth?
The Big Ten is so tough that teams can be five times better and have little to show for it in the standings. Ask Maryland and Northwestern, for example. When UCLA and USC come in, does that make it all that much tougher for Indiana, Michigan State, Iowa and Rutgers?
How about the NCAA Tournament and its 64-team field. Does the Big Ten get 10 teams in? More? How can it not?
What happens to Notre Dame, currently a football independent and member of the ACC? It should be in the Big Ten. What will the Pac-12 do to survive? And how proactive will the ACC, Big 12 and SEC be?
Yeah, we’ll be in Chicago a month from today, where the Big Ten will put on volleyball media days. No other conference has even thought about that.
But it’s Big Ten volleyball. And not nearly as B1G as it’s going to be.
Divisions might be the answer. Avoid the east west long slog.