Saturday, December 18, 1999



Final Four

TV or not TV
is the question

Some think volleyball should
change for television; others
like the game the way it is

By Cindy Luis


Volleyball, volleyball, wherefore art thou, volleyball?

Deny thy roots and refuse thy game.

What's in a name? That which we call volleyball by any other name still won't be shown on television.

With apologies to The Bard ...

The two houses in volleyball are feuding. There's been talk of a let serve, a two-point play for hitting behind the 10-meter line, the use of a tri-color ball a la the defunct ABA.

The FIVB, the international organization, has already jumped to a new system, complete with rally scoring through the entire match and the use of a libero, a roving defensive specialist.

The U.S. collegiate game is governed by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, which is holding its annual convention in Waikiki. The AVCA has been slower to make wholesale changes but has tinkered with various elements of the game, including experimenting with three formats using timed rally scoring just this past spring.


Bullet No. 1 Penn State is in the championship match for the third year in a row.
Bullet The Nittany Lions have lost in the two previous finals in five games, including the 1997 title match to Stanford. No. 2 Stanford is going for its fifth title in 1990s
Bullet Game time: 5 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Most of the changes are designed to make the sport more marketable and attractive to television. But what it has done is begun to alienate a solid fan base in pursuit of some vague ratings number.

"I'm concerned about the next few years,'' said Stanford women's coach Don Shaw, whose team plays for the national title today at the Stan Sheriff Center. "I like the sport the way it is, but then I'm a purist. I played volleyball (collegiately in the 1970s) when it was more of a counterculture thing and it was a nice little world we had.

"When it does grow bigger, I hope it stays as close to the original game. I don't know if TV is the determining factor but I hate to see the game change drastically for a spot on TV.''

Hawaii has shown that volleyball done right on television is a marketable commodity. However, not many places have a captive audience, one without a major pro team, and one with grassroots love of the game firmly entrenched.

A prime example is this week's final four. ESPN2 will air it sometime next week, cut into 90-minute packages that fit a time slot.

"Until the ratings get better, you're not going to get these matches live nationally,'' said Chris Marlowe, here to do ESPN's coverage this week. "Of course, I would prefer to see the matches live but, at this point in time, the networks don't seem to believe in volleyball as much as the aficionados do.

"There's not a number of big sponsors saying 'We want to see it live and we'll pay for it.'

"KFVE has done a great job in Hawaii but they've also done a lot of games (since 1986). And the Wahine and Rainbows have also been good products to sell.''

Dave Shoji doesn't agree.

"I don't think our state is all that different,'' said Shoji, who just completed his 25th season as the Hawaii women's coach. "People who like volleyball will watch. Why risk the integrity of the game?

"With different philosophies dictating the international and collegiate games, it's been difficult to keep the game uniform. The FIVB seems to change the rules at a whim and are too quick to jump while, at the collegiate level, we're too slow.''

What is beginning to happen is the international powers are seeing that change is not all that good. Some of the rally scoring variations have turned matches into routs lasting less than an hour.

"I think before you can figure out the rules, you have to figure out which game you're going to play,'' said former Wahine All-American Deitre Collins, the head coach at UNLV. "Some of the international rule changes are interesting but now you see the FIVB not too happy with it. Some of the changes were made for television but if it's going to end up being tape-delay, I'm not going to be gung ho about it unless there's a real reason to do it.''

Collins pointed to the more liberal contact allowed on the serve-receive as one point of confusion.

"When I played (in the 1980s), serve-receive is a skill you really had to learn. The crowd now doesn't understand the rules because they keep changing.''

What's good for the international game may not be good for the domestic game. And what's good for the men's collegiate game may not work at the women's level.

The men's game has become more of a power, sideout game. Rally scoring works, as does the libero.

"I think rally score is a pretty good way to play the men's game,'' said UC I rvine men's coach Charlie Brande, a former Wahine assistant. "And the libero brings the little guy back into game.

"I like the let serve in a rally score game. As it is, rally scoring takes away the jump serve. If you miss (the jumper) then it's really two points. You lose one and the other team gets one for the missed serve. The let serve brings the jumper back into the match.''

The let serve (where the ball is played if it hits the net and continues to the other side of the court) has met with mixed reaction.

"I think the let serve rewards someone for making a mistake,'' said Long Beach State women's coach Brian Gimmillaro, who spoke on the subject during yesterday's convention sessions. "I don't think it's good for the sport.

"And awarding two points for a back-row attack? Then give three points for hitting the mascot. That takes skill.''

But Gimmillaro is serious about where the sport is going.

"The scoring system is experimental and we know something is going to change after 2000,'' he said. "What it will be, we don't know. But I have a hard time accepting a system that has failed.

"The reason that there is no consensus among the coaches is because the experiments didn't work. The traditional scoring system had great thought to it. It didn't happen overnight.''

Last year, the Division I Women's Volleyball Committee voted to maintain the current scoring format for the 1999 Division I Women's Volleyball Championship. But the committee also voted to request that institutions experiment with three prescribed formats in spring with the intent to likely change to a point-per-play format effective with the 2000 championship and submit a survey of how the experimentation went.

The consensus was that there was no consensus.

"We played with the new scoring system against Alberta in Kona last month,'' said Rainbow men's coach Mike Wilton, who used the rally score to 25, best-of-five format. "What I don't like is that it's real difficult, almost impossible, to mount a comeback if you fall way behind.

"On the up side, every point is real important and you have to be on it all the time. I like the old scoring system and I don't like the (liberal) first contact on the serve. My feeling is when you receive the serve, it had better come out clean.''

The Rainbows will use the libero next month and the tri-color ball.

"Volleyball is an amazing game, a wonderful game,'' said former Pacific player Heather Cox, the color commentator for ESPN volleyball. "What it needs is more exposure and for the game to be consistent.

"I'm all in favor of making it more TV-friendly as long as we don't change the game too much.''

The powers that be might be wise to reread "Romeo and Juliet.'' A rose by any other name still left both sides dead.

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