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When compared to the rest of college sports, volleyball could certainly be described as niche. For men, it has only been a Division 1 sport since 1970 and only since 1981 for women. Comparatively, Men’s Basketball has had a Championship since 1939, while Football has had one since 1936. Women’s collegiate sports don’t have the same longevity behind them due to the lack of funding prior to Title IX’s passage in 1972.

 

Volleyball, indoor or outdoor, has often been associated with California and with good reason. Most of the top players you’re familiar with were born in California; it is the only state to currently host multiple AVP tournaments, and in Men and Women’s College volleyball, California schools have won 54 of 77 possible National Championships. Volleyball was California. But in the last decade it has truly started to spread out.

 

Up until the year 2000, only two schools, Penn State and BYU, had won a Division 1 Men’s National Championship in Volleyball. Since 2001, six National Championships have been won by non-Californian Universities, an astonishing 715% increase from the prior 31 years. On the women’s side, 6 of the first 19 National Championships were won by non-California universities, while that number has increased and seen 9 of the past 14 titles being won by non-Californians.

 

Today there are 24 Division 1 Men’s and over 300 Women’s Division 1 teams in the NCAA, with hundreds of more schools at the Division 2 and 3 levels. The explosion for women can partially be attributed to Title IX. Prior to the passage of Title IX, women weren’t given the same athletic opportunities as men. Since its implementation, volleyball has greatly benefited from the increased opportunities it affords women.

 

One of the important factors in the increased popularity can be attributed to the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta. The Atlanta games marked the first time that Beach Volleyball was an Olympic sport. On the men’s side, Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes took home the gold, while Michael Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh took home the silver. During this time over two million people came through Atlanta to view the games in person, while over a billion people watched the games around the world. A sport that hadn’t received that many viewers in its lifetime, just shattered that mark in two weeks.

 

The popularity of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings also cannot be understated. From 2004-2012, the duo won three Olympic gold medals and more doubles titles than any other duo in history. As Americans, we are a society that praises the victors, particularly those who are incredibly dominant. Think Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods. Misty and Kerri were that team for beach volleyball.

 

Development is also an area which has helped the growth across the nation. FIVB and USA Volleyball have both helped fund youth development. Thanks to good organization and leadership, new platforms are available for youth athletes that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Volleyball also benefits from participation being fairly even amongst both sexes.

 

Volleyball is reaching a level of national consciousness that wasn’t possible even a decade ago. What used to be a niche sport that was mainly embraced by those near a beach has spread to almost every region of the United States. Take a look, this year’s Women’s NCAA Final Four included Texas, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Washington. No California teams. This year, 6 schools competed for the NCAA Men’s National Championship. Erskine College, Stanford, Lewis University, Penn State, BYU, and Loyola Chicago all competed with a chance to win a National Championship. Loyola Chicago ended up taking down Stanford in four sets to earn the school’s first national championship in men’s volleyball.

 

The spread of volleyball is a great thing for the future of the sport. With more exposure, comes more competition and talent. The combination of all of these things forecast a bright future.

 

(Photo cred: onwardstate.com)

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