Coaches: Venue, coverage diminish NCAA volleyball tournament

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Coaches of two of the top teams in the NCAA Division I volleyball tournament complained Thursday about the setup for the event next week, with Wisconsin’s Kelly Sheffield saying it could continue shining an unfavorable light on the treatment of female athletes by college sports’ governing body.

The NCAA, as it did with the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, moved the volleyball tournament to a single location as a safeguard against COVID-19. Play begins Wednesday.

The tournament was moved from the fall because of the pandemic and will be held at CHI Health Center with 48 teams instead of the usual 64. The first three rounds will be played on courts set up in a convention hall. The rest will be played in the adjacent arena.

ESPN will stream the first two rounds on its digital platforms without play-by-play announcers or analysts.

“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,” Sheffield said, referring to criticism of the NCAA for not initially providing a full weight-training area to women’s teams. “It’s stunning they’re not (having) a broadcast team. To me it’s just lazy ... that you’re just going to be looking at silence while watching NCAA tournament games.”

The national semifinal matches and championship match will be televised on ESPN2.

Sheffield, whose Badgers are the No. 1 seed after finishing second to Stanford in 2019, said the lack of announcers for the first two rounds diminishes the tournament.

“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.”

The NCAA said in a statement ESPN is not required to produce any coverage of the first and second rounds and that COVID-19 restrictions create technical challenges.

Nebraska’s John Cook, whose team is seeded No. 5, said coaches are concerned about use of the convention center. There will be four competition courts laid out in two halls as well as eight practice courts in a third hall.

Four matches will be played simultaneously in the first and second rounds — akin to a high school club tournament, Cook said.

No locker rooms will be available early in the tournament because of COVID-19 protocols.

“Volleyball players warm up and then change into their uniforms,” Cook said. “How does that work if you’re in the middle of convention Hall C?”

The NCAA said teams will have secure areas to change clothes.

“Contrary to reports, players were never expected to change clothes on the bench,” the NCAA said.

Cook said instead of playing in the convention center, 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,” Cook said. “It’s going to be interesting how this is all pulled off.”