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Criticism of NCAA Hits Women's Volleyball Tournament

Paul Steinbach

Fresh off the public-relations disaster that was the NCAA women's basketball tournament, the governing body is now under fire for conditions surrounding teams in the women's volleyball bracket.

As reported by Sports Illustrated, the bracket itself was pared down from 64 teams to 48 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also caused the tournament to be moved from fall to spring and held entirely in Omaha, Neb. But here's where the complaints really start to pile up.

The tournament's first three rounds will be played on courts inside a converted convention hall, and the first two rounds will be streamed by ESPN without play-by-play or color analysis. “I really hope they take a closer look at that. I have a feeling that could blow up as much as what the weight room stuff did in women’s basketball,” Kelly Sheffield, head coach of top-seeded Wisconsin told The Associated Press. “It’s stunning they’re not (having) a broadcast team. To me it’s just lazy. You’re just going to be looking at silence while watching NCAA tournament games."

ESPN2 will carry the championship match and semifinals, but that falls well short, according to Sheffield, pointing to the early round coverage. “It’s going to come across as a high school type of deal,” he said. “It should feel special. For a lot of people that won’t be the case.”

Purdue head coach Dave Shondell went even further, tweeting, "As of now, no play-by-play announcers will report the NCAA tournament action on ESPN3 next week. After cutting the field by 25%, women’s volleyball is not worthy of announcers? This is BUSH LEAGUE. Plenty is [sic] capable commentators happy to do the work for free. Let’s get organized."

John Cook, head coach at Nebraska, another tournament qualifier out of the Big Ten Conference, has found the facilities sorely lacking. Cook said that instead of playing in the convention center — where four competition courts are laid out across two halls, and eight practice courts are crammed into the third — the NCAA should hold early matches at Creighton’s Sokol Arena, Nebraska-Omaha’s Baxter Arena and Nebraska’s Devaney Center in Lincoln.

“That’s a lot nicer of an NCAA tournament because those are three great facilities (and better) than the setup they have now, which is in a convention center, no locker rooms, no bathrooms,” said Cook, referring to COVID protocols that will leave locker rooms off limits during early round matches. “Volleyball players warm up and then change into their uniforms, How does that work if you’re in the middle of convention Hall C?”

With four matches taking place simultaneously during the first two rounds of the tournament, which opens Wednesday, Cook compared the pending atmosphere to a high school club tournament. “It’s going to be interesting how this is all pulled off," he said.

As it stands, matches will be played in Omaha's CHI Health Center Arena starting with the regional finals.

The NCAA released a statement Thursday night clarifying its position on specific concerns raised by the coaches, maintaining that player were never expected to change on the bench, and that broadcast and competition flooring plans have not deviated far from past tournaments.

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