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We had the opportunity to interview NCAA President Mark Emmert last month just before the championship game of the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament.
In a casual setting in Columbus, Ohio, with a handful of media members, he answered questions about volleyball and more. And we had a glimmer of hope, if anyone goes into battle, to change the geographic parameters that choke the making of the NCAA Tournament bracket.
Emmert isn’t necessarily a volleyball player, but as president of the University of Washington, he stood in the stands when the Huskies won the NCAA title in 2005.
We started by asking his general opinion about NCAA volleyball.
“First off, it’s been such a nice run,” Emmert said. “I was just talking to one of the Washington selection committee members, and when I was at UW, after I left LSU, we won a championship in ’05, and it was a great event, but it might be half of what’s going on here this weekend it’s been great to see the crowd, the attention, the participation, everything has come a very, very nice trajectory, and the quality of the competition, the quality of the athletics is pretty amazing It is now in a beautiful place.”
Maybe, but there’s definitely a feeling among volleyball people, coaches and those of us who are close to the game that this isn’t being treated like it’s premier league, especially when compared to women’s basketball.
“Yeah, I get that, and there are comparisons around all sports,” Emmert said. “We’re trying to make sure we promote each sport on our own two feet, and I think tonight you’ll see a beautiful reflection of that and the way this tournament has been handled and the way it’s been all the rounds.
“The dedication to women’s basketball has been around for a long time and no one wants to promote one by taking down another, but we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for all of our women’s sports. Volleyball is clearly growing, as is softball, as are a handful of sports, women’s soccer of course. So we’ll keep working on it and make it the best tournament possible.”
Has there been talk about more TV coverage of volleyball earlier in the tournament? After all, the first two rounds were only available on ESPN.com.
“Obviously we have media contracts, with ESPN or whoever our providers are, whether that’s radio or streaming or TV, and they’re obviously trying to get as many good games as possible. We keep pushing them with all our sports to get the most out of it. But for them, of course, it’s a business decision. I think the more they broadcast these matches, especially, and the quality of what’s going on in college volleyball, we’re going to see more of it because people like it when they watch it.”
The NCAA bracket — and not just in volleyball — is so heavily influenced by geographic restrictions. The 400-mile radius, which keeps flights to a minimum, enforces matchups against nearby NCAA opponents (think BYU-Utah, Rice-Texas, Pittsburgh-Penn State, the Florida schools). What can be done to limit that element and not have a geographic tournament but a tournament from 1 to 64 and play accordingly?
“That is up to the selection committees themselves and they have to look at that and make all the obvious considerations,” said Emmert.
In the case of the 2021 NCAA tournament, there were geographic exceptions, such as UCFs going to UCLA and Mississippi state going to Washington.
“The members make the rules,” Emmert said. “They (the selection committee) can go into the championship groups and say, ‘We want to do this differently and put a different proposal on the table.’ And that’s something that needs to be discussed. That is not part of the implementation of these events that I or our employees have anything to do with.
“If they want to change that rule, I certainly won’t stand in their way, and neither will anyone who works for us. But that is the policy of the Championship Commission and if there is a good reason to change them, I will support it.”
And, finally, what about the growth of men’s volleyball?
“There’s a really good working group set up by the USOPC consisting mainly of collegiate athletic directors, and they’ve looked at a whole range of our Olympic sports, including men’s volleyball, and are trying to find different solutions to bring the sport to a collegiate level.
“They have not yet come to any recommendations or conclusions. They’ve made some really nice general recommendations, and I think we have a chance to move forward with some of them. And that would be men’s volleyball. But it’s a big challenge, and we all know that.”