The NCAA women’s volleyball tournament is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Omaha after being postponed from the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be played in a single location, a similar arrangement to the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with the first three rounds held on courts set up in CHI Health Center’s convention hall and the remaining games to be played in an adjacent arena.
Nebraska Coach John Cook said at a news conference Thursday that he and other coaches are dubious about the tournament’s venue and logistics. He preferred the tournament be played in venues across the area to provide ample space to accommodate the competition’s 48 teams — down from the usual 64 in response to the pandemic. Cook indicated teams would not have locker rooms to change in before or after matches.
“I was on a call yesterday, [and] a lot of coaches are concerned about the setup in Omaha, in the convention center,” he said. “We have a practice time an hour before our match on Thursday. We don’t practice an hour before our match on a game day, so there’s just a lot of stuff like that that everyone’s going to have to navigate and was concerned about.
“And then the logistics of actually playing a match, having a locker room, having a whiteboard, having bathrooms, things like that. Where do they change? The volleyball players warm up and then they change into their uniforms; how’s that going to work [if] you’re in the middle of Convention Hall C?”
Kelly Sheffield, coach of top-seeded Wisconsin, shared Cook’s concerns about practice schedules and added that he also was frustrated by the tournament’s broadcast arrangements. ESPN initially planned to stream the first two rounds of the event without play-by-play announcers or analysts.
“It’s stunning that they’re not going to be putting a broadcast team because you could easily do that [with] people from their homes,” Sheffield said Thursday. “It’s just lazy that you’ve got an NCAA tournament that only has 48 teams in it but you’re not going to be able to have commentators or play-by-play, that you’re just going to be looking at silence while watching NCAA tournament games.”
The NCAA on Thursday night denied there would be no changing areas. “Contrary to reports, players were never expected to change clothes on the bench,” it said in a statement. “Each team will have a secure changing area on-site.” It also gave details of how practice-court flooring was installed.
Regarding Sheffield’s complaints about the broadcasts, the NCAA said it was not required to produce live coverage or commentary in the first two rounds of the tournament and cited “additional technical challenges, including four streams going out at the same time from one location. Announcers will call matches remotely for the regional semifinals and regional finals — then will be on-site to call matches for the national semifinals and championship match.”
Purdue Coach Dave Shondell said ESPN was working to include commentators into first and second-round matches in a Twitter post on Friday. The company confirmed their inclusion in a statement to The Washington Post.
“ESPN is committed to presenting the NCAA Volleyball Championship in its entirety for the first time this year, including the first and second round matches. Despite the variety of challenges related to the pandemic, all 47 matches will be live on an ESPN platform and will include commentators,” it said.
Women’s players and coaches pressured NCAA President Mark Emmert to call for “an independent review” in late March. Their actions caught the attention of House Democrats, who asked for a review of the NCAA’s other championships and raised questions about the organization’s role in fueling inequity in college sports.
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