Title IX Lesson in the NCAA Sand Volleyball Vote

One news item that we should have mentioned in real time last week concerned the failure by NCAA member institutions to remove the emerging sport tag from women’s sand volleyball. If you’re a little confused by the name, don’t worry. The sport we’re talking about is actually the same as the two-person beach volleyball game that has become so popular at the Summer Olympics.

In any case, after the NCAA bestowed the emerging sport tag on women’s sand volleyball last April — and yes, men are on the outside looking in just like crew — a number of schools complained:

63 schools petitioned the NCAA to reconsider. Many traditional indoor powers, like three-time defending champion Penn State, were concerned about the affect the new discipline will have on the indoor game.

“We have much work to do,” DeBoer said. “There is obviously much concern in Division I about sand volleyball. We have a year to … address these concerns.”

Among the detractors are indoor coaches who fear they will lose players to the two-on-two sport — the only volleyball discipline with a pro tour — and athletic directors who feel they will be pressured to add sand volleyball or lose recruits. Schools have no obligation to add it; other sports on the emerging list include equestrian, crew and squash.

“The reality of it is: If it’s added by our competition, we believe we’ll be forced to add it,” said Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi. “Because were going to recruit the elite student-athlete who’s going to anticipate playing both sports.”

Like it or not, beach volleyball is incredibly popular, not only on the professional level, but as a recreational sport. I can actually speak to some personal experience here, as I spent a winter playing indoor beach volleyball in the Washington, D.C. suburbs about a decade ago.

But popularity isn’t what matters to college and university administrators when it comes to granting a sport “emerging” status inside the NCAA. If you take a look back at the comments, it’s hard not to be struck that the concerns being expressed are exclusively about how adding the sport will affect institutions, not how offering the sport might better respond to actual demand.

This is a continuing problem inside NCAA member institutions, schools that as a rule seem to be more interested in adding large roster sports for women to help them comply with Title IX than responding to demand for sports that female athletes actually want to play. That’s certainly the case with women’s wrestling, a sport that boasts more participants at the high school level than a number of the NCAA’s “emerging sports.”

Luckily for supporters of beach volleyball like Kathy DeBoer, Executive Director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, the vote to remove the “emerging” tag from the sport didn’t reach the 62.5% threshold needed to kill the sport. If enough schools add sand volleyball in the next 10 years, it will be recognized as an official NCAA sport. As far as we’re concerned, that’s good news. Here’s hoping that one day soon, women’s wrestling gets the same treatment.

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