Weeks after the NCAA was criticized for disparities between the men's and women's basketball tournaments, the organization is facing a similar battle with the volleyball tournament.
Multiple Division I coaches complained Thursday about the setup for next week's event. Wisconsin’s Kelly Sheffield went as far as to say it sheds light on the treatment of female athletes by the college sports governing body.
The tournament was moved from the fall to the spring, and will be held entirely in Omaha because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 48 teams will be a part of the event instead of 64. The first three rounds will be played on courts set up in a convention hall.
Big Ten analyst Emily Ehman reported that eight practice courts inside the convention center are just sport court layered over cement flooring, creating a high-risk injury environment.
Additionally, ESPN will be streaming the first two rounds on the program's 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 to the Associated Press. “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.”
Purdue coach Dave Shondell tweeted, "As of now, no play-by-play announcers will report the NCAA tournament action on ESPN3 next week. After cutting the field by 25%, women’s volleyball is not worthy of announcers? This is BUSH LEAGUE. Plenty is capable commentators happy to do the work for free. Let’s get organized."
The semifinal and championship rounds will be aired on ESPN2. Sheffield went on to say the lack of announcers in the early 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.”
Nebraska coach John Cook has been vocal about his concerns with how the convention center will be used. Four competition courts are laid out across two halls, and eight practice courts are crammed into the third.
With this layout, four matches will happen simultaneously during the first two rounds, Cook said. He compared it to a high school club tournament. Additionally, due to COVID-19 protocols, locker rooms will not be available during the early rounds of the tournament.
“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 released a statement on Thursday night commenting on the various coaches frustrations. Regarding the changing rooms they said: "Contrary to reports, players were never expected to change clothes on the bench – each team will have a secure changing area on site."
On the flooring situation, they said in a statement that, "To address concerns about the practice court flooring in the convention center - felt underlayment is applied to each practice court to apply cushioning and prevent court movement. Taraflex floor will be laid over felt underlayment and sport court floor for the first three rounds of competition. Starting with the regional finals, matches will be played in CHI Health Center Arena on a Sport Court over a wood sport flooring system, which has been the traditional set-up for the championship."
On the broadcast situation, they said, in part, "As in previous years, there is no requirement to produce coverage of or provide live commentary in the first and second rounds of the Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship - this year in partnership with the NCAA, ESPN committed to cover every match either livestream or broadcast. Due to pandemic-related restrictions and the format this year, there are additional technical challenges, including four streams going out at the same time from one location."