Following the successes of this year’s NCAA Tournament – plenty of highly competitive matches and great crowd attendance, notably from the home UCLA fans – it seems that men’s collegiate volleyball could benefit from expanding the field in future NCAA tournaments.
Fresh off of the National Championship, we just saw UCLA, who didn’t win their league in the regular or postseason, take Long Beach State down to the wire. Teams who are great but not the best in their league in the regular season can still muster up enough to win the NCAA title, but are currently being left out of the field.
For instance, Hawaii was the lone team to beat Long Beach State, yet among the huge debate with UC Irvine missed out on the tournament. It seems that they could have had a legitimate shot at an NCAA Championship, yet never got to appear in one. Add to the list Loyola Chicago, who had a blip late in the season, but were right there all year. Even schools like Pepperdine had highlight moments.
“Absolutely I’d like to see more,” Long Beach State men’s volleyball head coach Alan Knipe said prior to the NCAA Semifinals. “For some of the teams we played over the course of the season to not have a chance to compete for the championship is difficult. I’ve been on both sides of that. There are a handful of teams out there that probably feel like that they could get in this tournament and maybe win it.”
In the women’s division, 64 teams out of 334 make the field. That means about 19.2% of the schools make it into the NCAA Tournament. In college basketball it’s 18.2%. In the NFL, NBA and MLB it’s 37.5%, 53.3% and 33.3% respectively.
Compare that to Men’s NCAA Division I-II volleyball right now where seven teams make it from a field of 42. That equates to 16.6% entering the big dance – not a huge difference, but one that shows there is room to add.
“We want expansion. I think that the best thing that happened with the Big West [Conference] adding men’s volleyball was that it did spur some growth,” Knipe said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean adding three teams or making the NCAA Tournament a large 16-team field. It actually might mean just adding one or two more teams to the event, which would either mean 19.0% or 21.4% of the available pool was in the postseason. That would make it a perfect eight for quarterfinals or nine where one play-in-game occurs to narrow the postseason down to eight.
The question then becomes, ‘well is that fair for the 1-seed who wouldn’t get a bye anymore’? If there were nine teams, they’d get to face a play-in-winner. If it was eight, they’d face the lowest ranked team. It wouldn’t be too much to ask, and would be giving one or two more at-large teams a shot at a National Championship while making the tournament even more enticing.
It’s also not unreasonable to think that if more teams make the tournament, the more the sport will grow. The more the sport grows, the more schools may be willing to add a men’s volleyball program and increase the total amount of teams. At the very least, the sport growing is beneficial for the current schools and the NCAA as a whole.
“The quality is there to add teams, and the tournament would not be watered down if we were able to expand. Do we go as big as the women’s tournament, probably not, but we could get sizably bigger and the tournament would not lose any of its luster,” Knipe added. “I’m all about growth, and I love the way we’re going and what’s happened the last couple of years from the expansion to six, to the play-in games, and what we’ve been able to do has been great for the student-athletes.”
As we tie up everything to finish off the 2018 season, a conversation over expansion once again should occur in the offseason. And if that conversation is a serious one, the tournament should strongly consider adding a team or two to the field to continue the growth of the sport and cast a wider net on teams that can win the National Championship.