Volleyball coaches applaud NCAA's new schedule, but Texas' Jerritt Elliott has more ideas
The longtime volleyball fans who snagged a ticket for this week's action at Gregory Gym may notice that the schedule looks different.
On Thursday evening, Gregory Gym will host Sweet 16 matches between No. 2 Texas and No. 15 Washington and No. 10 Nebraska and unseeded Illinois. The winners of those matches will advance to an Elite 8 contest that is set for Saturday.
In years past, the NCAA scheduled its Elite 8 matches for the day after its Sweet 16 showdowns. In September, it was announced that a day off would be placed between the two rounds.
While meeting with Austin-area media members on Wednesday, several coaches applauded the new format. Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said the change was "something that we've been fighting for for a long time."
"We've experienced, obviously, a lot of matches where we've been playing the Sweet 16 late at night and then having a quick turnaround because of TV and it's the most important match to get to a Final Four," Elliott said. "(Getting to the Final Four is) what the first goal of this tournament is — and obviously to win it — but there's so little time to be able to prepare, get your team ready, that it was much-needed for these female athletes and I commend the NCAA for making that move."
Said Washington coach Keegan Cook: "Another little victory in women's volleyball. There's lots of things that we want to change and the best way to achieve change is little by little. I love the day off for the athletes. Certainly we play back-to-back in the preseason, we don't do it very often in conference. The day off is just a hard-fought battle for women's volleyball. I think it serves the sport well. I expected the Elite Eight rounds to be pretty special with the athletes being fully-rested and ready to compete."
Said Illinois coach Chris Tamas: "I think it's great. We play a really dynamic sport. And we're used to playing back-to-back and as the years have gone on, that's changed over the course of conference play. It can be really tough to go in and one night, let's say (Illinois outside hitter Raina Terry) takes 60 swings in a night, playing six rotations, and all of a sudden, you've got to turn around and do it in under 24 hours. You don't have that in many other sports at all, at least not as dynamic as ours is. I would also praise that decision to have that day off. It's about student-athlete welfare.
Cook said the revised schedule was "one of a lot of little things on the checklist for our sport that we're trying to make just that much better." Elliott later added that there are changes that he'd like to be seen made to the NCAA Tournament.
"I think we are close to being a Tier 1 sport, but we can't do it because we're not making enough profit," Elliott said. "I've been preaching for quite some time, trying to change the format of this NCAA Tournament."
Elliott then outlined his vision for the NCAA Tournament. Elliott said he would keep the first weekend of the postseason as it is. Under the current format, the top 16 seeds host four qualifiers for two rounds of single-elimination matches.
In the Sweet 16 round, however, Elliott wants the NCAA to shift to a "Super Regional" format. So instead of two single-elimination matches being staged at Gregory Gym on Thursday, Texas would just host Washington this weekend for a best-of-three series. Nebraska would play the Fighting Illini in its gym.
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Elliott argued that this would be a way to generate more revenue. If Elliott's plan were in place this season, eight best-of-three series would be hosted by top ssLouisville, Texas, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Baylor, Purdue, Nebraska and Georgia Tech. Four of those schools — Nebraska (8,172), Wisconsin (7,096), Texas (3,481), Purdue (2,347) — averaged more than 2,000 fans for each of their home matches this season.
But only Louisville, Texas, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin will host matches this week. Pittsburgh (1,407) and Louisville (1,034) respectively rank 24th and 38th in average attendance.
"Nebraska would be hosting now, they would be getting eight or 9,000 a night. We'd be having ours, Wisconsin would be hosting. It would make us a profitable sport and it's really where we need to head," Elliott said.
Elliott proposed that the Elite 8 round could follow the same best-of-three format as his Sweet 16 suggestion. He also said the Final Four could expand to an eight-team competition. Both the College World Series and the Women's College World Series invite eight teams to their season-ending showcases.