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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Ailing men's volleyball seeks booster shot from UH

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation coaches think it would be a great idea if the University of Hawai'i became the regular host for its men's volleyball championships.

Some other coaches are also nudging UH's Mike Wilton to get the school to put in a bid for the 2003 NCAA Championships.

Small wonder.

NCAA men's volleyball, as we know it, is drowning and somebody needs to save it. And everybody is looking to . . .

Well, they're looking at Hawai'i.

Suddenly, the Stan Sheriff Center and the fans who patronize it in NCAA-leading numbers (5,169 per match this season), are being looked to as saviors.

The state of the sport was a topic of conversation at the NCAA final four this past weekend and it wasn't hard to see why. Not when they couldn't even fill the 5,000-seat Pyramid at Long Beach State for a final involving UCLA. Not when the MPSF Championships the week before at Brigham Young averaged a meager 1,032 per day.

Nor was this just an off-year. Last year the NCAA Championship game drew 2,738 at Indiana-Fort Wayne.

Hardly encouraging numbers for a sport on the brink, one struggling to demonstrate fiscal relevance amid the increasingly cost-conscious intercollegiate landscape.

When Loyola Marymount and San Diego State dropped men's volleyball before the start of this season, it was a shrill wake-up call heard 'round the sport. With only 72 men's volleyball programs and just 21 in Division I, the next few dominoes that fall could take down the whole thing.

Which is why UC Santa Barbara coach Ken Preston has been advocating — and finding growing support for — moving the MPSF tournament to UH for a multi-year period.

"We were there (in the Sheriff Center) in '96 for the MPSF and it felt like the final four; the crowds, the atmosphere, the (media) interest," Preston said. "That kind of promotion, especially when people see it on TV, is what our sport needs."

Says Wilton: "We have had, for several years now, a (MPSF) playoff that is good and equitable but it isn't making the money that it could be."

As Wilton and Preston envision it, having the MPSF semifinals and final — and possibly quarterfinals — here on a regular basis with UH guaranteed a berth, would not only pay for itself but afford the conference enough profit to help promote its teams. Possibly with enough left over, they hope, to help underwrite current teams or provide an incentive for new ones to come in.

Noble pursuits to be sure. Apart from what it would do for men's volleyball, it is also in UH's best interests for the sport to survive. Men's volleyball on the Manoa campus is a rare money-maker, one of only four among the 17 sports UH offers that turns a profit. With just 4.5 scholarships and a low overhead, men's volleyball is, percentage-wise, the biggest cash producer on campus.

Done right, the MPSF venture has win-win potential for UH and the sport of men's volleyball. At the very least, it merits a good, long look.

Where's the crowd?
Men's Volleyball Attendance
* — NCAA record
Event Site Finals Overall
2001 NCAA Long Beach State 4,807 9,104
2001 MPSF Brigham Young 481 1,584
2000 NCAA Indiana-FW 2,738 5,031
1999 NCAA UCLA 8,026 13,513
1998 NCAA UH 9,822* 18,901*
1996 MPSF UH 5,983 16,208