Friday, January 12, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 12, 2001

Declining membership, finances putting spikes in heart of NCAA

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

It is written in the heavens that a universe can contract only to a certain point before it collapses under its own pressure.

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It is a demise that, without a drastic change, might be the fate of NCAA men’s volleyball.

As membership declines because of economics and gender-equity commitments, men’s volleyball is rapidly facing the real possibility of extinction.

Of the 83 NCAA schools that play men’s volleyball, 21 are Division I members. Expansion is not on anybody’s master plan and, with only Hawaii and Brigham Young operating in the black, additional cutbacks are likely.

"I’m very concerned," Hawaii head coach Mike Wilton said. "I want the sport to survive."

Last year, Division I members San Diego State and Loyola Marymount dropped their men’s volleyball programs.

"That could give other athletic directors ideas," Wilton said. "That’s an easy way out of a financial pickle."

The NCAA has tried to increase interest, introducing a multi-colored ball and implementing a point-a-play, rally-scoring system.

The quality of play also has improved, with more players competing for fewer scholarships.

"With the lack of programs and scholarships for men’s volleyball across the country, there isn’t a loss of talent," UH middle blocker Brenton Davis said. "Everybody is fighting for a starting spot. There aren’t that many teams. Every team is tough. Every match is tough."

Still, men’s volleyball is on life support. The sport’s most decorated team, UCLA, draws around 1,000 fans for a big match. "That’s better than a lot of teams, but far away from being a money-maker, for sure," Wilton said.

And with the pressure to meet federal gender-equity guidelines — failure to comply could cost a school millions of dollars in federal funding — dropping men’s volleyball is an appealing option.

At most, dropping men’s volleyball will save a school 4.5 scholarships, the maximum amount a program is allowed to offer each year. At UH, that translates roughly to $72,000 a year.

But the number of scholarships is not the sole factor in calculating gender equity. Opportunities — the total number of players on a roster — are counted. For instance, while UH uses 4.5 scholarships, its opportunity number is 16.

The clock also is running. The NCAA is supposed to only sanction sports that are played by at least 30 percent of its members. There currently are more than 300 NCAA Division I schools. Even using the 114 NCAA Division I-A football schools as a measurement, the number of Division I men’s volleyball programs falls well short of the 30-percent minimum.

"We have to grow," Wilton said. "That’s the only answer. That’s the only way we can continue to have the NCAA shine on us."

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