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NCAA sand volleyball raises storm of opinions


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POSTED: Sunday, December 20, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. » Wearing a sweater over my aloha shirt, I'm sitting above a block of ice in the St. Pete Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Instead of hockey, I'm watching a tremendous championship volleyball match between teams from states known for wind and snow.

My thoughts wander to Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh in the Olympics, and Maverick and Goose in “;Top Gun.”;

A few months ago, it looked as if everyone was ready to hit the beach. Sand volleyball was designated an emerging sport by the NCAA, and it was all systems go.

But now it's not so fast.

There was plenty of discussion this week among coaches and other volleyball folks here at the AVCA convention about the pros and cons, and the Big 12 successfully filed a petition to get it off the fast track. A vote scheduled for next month should give a clearer picture on when and if sand volleyball becomes an intercollegiate sport.

From the perspective of Hawaii fans, it's certainly not a no-grainer. Hey, we've got plenty of sand ... and plenty of people great at playing volleyball on it. Presumably, some California and Florida schools—two states rich in volleyball talent and sunny coastlines—could benefit, too.

But what of the rest of the country?

As Hawaii coach Dave Shoji acknowledged the other day while picking up his national coach of the year hardware, volleyball has evolved into a national sport—not just one dominated by perpetually good-weather states.

Let's look at the thermometer at the meat lockers from where the other final four teams came: Austin, Texas, (37 degrees); Happy Valley, Pa., (20 and snow); Twin Cities, Minn., (24 and overcast). This all reminds me of an ill-advised beach party during winter quarter nearly 30 years ago, featuring semi-frozen sand from Lake Michigan, but I digress.

The point is, you can't play beach volleyball year-round in most of America, and that means college sand volleyball faces a tough fight.

It's kind of like college baseball, and recent legislation to start that season later—anything positive for the West Coast at the expense of the rest of the nation isn't going to last long, and is unlikely to survive a vote. (Additional reference: Heisman voting.)

Texas coach Jerritt Elliott isn't anti-Hawaii; he says it's criminal UH doesn't get to host NCAA tournament matches more often. But he doesn't think sand volleyball is good for the college game, at least now.

Like others, he cites added expenses at a time when even the big schools can't afford them. There's also more work involved for already-overstretched coaching and support staffs.

Shoji has mixed feelings.

“;I like the idea, what it can bring to the sport,”; said Shoji, from his front-row seat at the championship match. “;But there are some inherent problems.”;

Karch Kiraly is one proponent.

“;It will make indoor players into better all-around players,”; he said. “;That's why Hawaii produces such good all-around players. You can't grow up there without playing at the beach.”;

Kiraly and other supporters want to feed off the success and popularity of May-Treanor and Walsh.

“;It would help smaller schools by creating a larger talent pool,”; Kiraly said. “;You know who is against this? (Women's) basketball programs fear it.”;

With all that being said, as I sit here with my cold feet, I get the feeling ice volleyball might have a better chance of becoming an NCAA sport than sand volleyball.

Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.