Women’s volleyball has been in a state of flux this decade. The drama began with the monumental decision to shift the way the game was scored back in 2001. The NCAA facilitated the change from side-out scoring, where only the team who had the serve could score, and rally scoring where any point counts.
Drastically changing the way the game is scored means the way it’s played and a team’s strengths and weaknesses are affected as well. Long Beach State head coach Brian Gimmillaro was never a fan of the 2001 change.
“I think we’ve hurt the game,” he said at the time. “It takes away the most attractive element to the game, the change of momentum. People want to go to things that excite them, and when you eliminate a crucial element to the game, I don’t think it’s going to inspire new fans coming into the sport.”
This past offseason the NCAA tinkered with the scoring again. Instead of sticking with the 30-30-30-30-15 point format they adopted with rally scoring back in 2001, they dropped the score needed to win sets one through four to 25 points. The change is supposed to speed up games, but at what cost? LBSU beat Harvard this past weekend in under an hour, did they even work up a sweat?
“The 25-point sets will add an intensity and excitement level to our matches that has been missing,” said Marcia Alterman, the secretary-rules editor of the NCAA women’s volleyball rules committee. “I believe that players, coaches and fans will agree that the critical nature of every point will emphasize the need for focus and consistency to every play.”
Gimmillaro’s sentiments were very different.
“I think it’s stupid,” he said earlier this season. “When they put in rally scoring, they took away the big comebacks. Every sport loves big comebacks. The comebacks are the greatest thing. Now the comebacks are less. Now playing to 25, the comebacks [will happen] even less. I think it’s taking away from the beauty of the game. [Playing] to 25, it’s faster is all it is.”
For at least one of the players, the motive for the change was not lost but the affect on the way each game is played was important.
“It would be worth it from a spectator’s point-of-view because of a lull in the game if you go to 30,” senior setter Nicole Vargas said.
“But from a player’s point-of-view five points is a very big difference. There is no thinking that we have that point in the middle of the game where we could catch up and be ahead. We have to start from the beginning and go to all the way to the end.”
The move from 30 points down to 25 is an effort on the part of the NCAA to pair the scoring with the club and high school levels who also play to 25. Yet, shouldn’t college athletes be more physically fit to meet the demands of a longer match? The competition, stakes and work alone demand it. In nearly every sport the time of a game is extended from the high school to college level. This is true in softball, basketball, football, etc.
While it is unreasonable to expect a 10-year old girl at the club level to play longer than a 25-point per game total, it is not for a physically fit college athlete to do the same. As competition and physical prowess progress, so should the length in game time.
The scoring rules alone are not all the NCAA has tinkered with recently. While change is good and constantly re-evaluating your product shows a willingness to adapt, so is consistency. The integrity of the game should be paramount to any change and should be considered continually.
For Vargas, other recent rule changes like the one that reads in part “a player who has the opportunity to set the ball from good position will be expected to execute without a double contact,” makes being a setter more tenuous. Effectively officiating it is proving difficult as well.
“With all the rules that are changing, especially the score and now with the setting, it’s just taking away from what volleyball is,” Vargas said. “As far as the other rules like the setting with me being a setter, I try and make the ball perfect all the time and if they aren’t calling the doubles rule than what am I practicing?”
Women’s volleyball from the lowest levels to the Olympics is a tremendous game. From the Walter Pyramid to the beaches, it gives ladies an arena for excellence but the constant changing of rules at the NCAA level is making a game they grew up loving one very different from the one they are playing now.
The NCAA rule
Points Required to Win a Set. (Rule 8.2.1, page 45) — The number of points required to win sets one through four is now 25. Rationale: There is a significant reduction in the intensity of many contests in the middle of a set that is played to 30 points. Fan and player focus and fan excitement will increase with this change. Additionally, a significant number of televised games are extending more than two hours in duration. Note: the number of points required to win the fifth set remains at fifteen.
-Posted July 14th, 2008