Louisiana State University announced Wednesday that it will begin sponsoring varsity sand volleyball next spring, making it the 32nd Division I school committed to the sport - more than doubling the 15 schools that competed last year during collegiate sand volleyball's inaugural varsity season.
Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, which earlier this month staged the 2013 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships in Gulf Shores, Ala., predicts conservatively that 10 more teams from a list of two dozen D-I schools now considering the sport will begin play next spring. "We are quite confident we're going to go over 40 next year," DeBoer says. "The reason that's a flinch number and why I track these numbers so regularly is because once you have 40 varsity programs and you can hold that number for two years, the NCAA will start the wheels turning to put you into the budget cycle to become a champion sport, which means the NCAA pays for the championship. Right now, the AVCA is running the championship, but the schools are paying to send their teams."
The timing couldn't be better, according to DeBoer, with the NCAA in the first year of its current three-year budget cycle. "It could layout perfectly for sand volleyball, where we get right in," she says. "If we don't make 40 next year, then we're waiting another three years."
When asked if she's surprised by the rapid growth of sand volleyball at the collegiate level, DeBoer adds, "The popularity does not surprise me. This was one of the reasons that our coaches association was so interested in trying to move this forward as a collegiate sport. We knew that kids really wanted the opportunity to play."
And institutional sponsorship of the sport should not be prohibitive from a financial standpoint. Schools can expect annual operational costs of less than $30,000, excluding coaches' salaries and scholarships, according to DeBoer. "Sand volleyball is your most economical way to add a women's sport, because you can borrow expertise and talent already on your campus," she says. "I think that's what's fueling the growth."
The sport is becoming more specialized, however, with student-athletes increasingly choosing to play sand volleyball or hard-court volleyball, but not necessarily both. The AVCA keeps schools informed on an annual basis as to whether programs have hired a separate sand volleyball coach or invested new money in sand volleyball scholarships, but it hasn't needed to cajole prospective sponsors much beyond that. Says DeBoer, "Athletics administrators are coming to us, asking about squad size and spending, and who around them has the sport so they can put together a schedule without having to get on a plane."
Sponsoring schools so far have been concentrated in the West (15 D-I teams) and Southeast (13), with the universities of Arizona and South Carolina set to begin play next spring. The term sand volleyball gained traction in NCAA circles, DeBoer says, "so it would feel like something that could be played in Iowa as well as Florida." For now, at least, Nebraska remains the lone Midwest sponsor of Division I sand volleyball.
But whether or not plane rides are part of the equation, it appears the sky's the limit for the sport. When AB spoke to DeBoer in 2008, sand volleyball was still months away from inclusion on the NCAA's list of emerging sports. Today, she calls it "the most successful emerging sport that's ever been put on the list."
The 2013 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships will be televised by the CBS Sports Network on May 21 at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. (ET), and on May 28 at 8 p.m.