A question came up on Twitter the other day. The poster ask what it would be like if beach volleyball went back to sideout scoring. My guess is longer sets, and probably the need to go back to a single 15-point game rather than the best of 3 that seems to be the dominant format now, but with the smaller court now, maybe not.
Something I can’t help wondering is whether the motivation for the move to rally scoring is a moot point at this stage – or nearly so. FIVB introduce rally scoring in its efforts to try to make sets more predictable in length as a general move toward making matches fit better into a standard 2-hour sports television broadcast block. Of course the issue always ended up being the variation in length cause by the best-of-5 format, which they also tried changing with little success.
Should we really be thinking about the traditional TV time slot anymore? It seems to me that online streaming has just about made that irrelevant. At least it’s gone a long way toward doing so. In that case, why should we care about match length? The focus should be on exciting play, I would think.
So that begs the question – is rally score more exciting than sideout? The follow-up to that is what sort of changes would we see if sideout was reintroduced.
Would serving get more aggressive because it wouldn’t cost a point? That’s a little hard to imagine in the men’s game where there so much bombing of serves to begin with. Perhaps on the women’s side, though? Maybe at the lower levels of the game as well where there sideout percentages aren’t as high, lowering the imperative to serve aggressively? If so, an interesting side effect might be the development of better passers.
Perhaps it would be the other way – teams being more conservative in serving so as not to squander point-scoring opportunities. After all, if the other team sides-out, it doesn’t cost the serving team a point.
Would serving teams get more aggressive offensively? Since there’s no risk of giving away a point, maybe we’d see a bit more creativity and speed in attack. I was recently reading something Al Scates (long-time UCLA men’s coach) wrote where he described the Long Beach State women of the late 1980s and early 1990s as running an offense nearly as fast as seen in the men’s game. This is not something you hear a lot these days when comparing the two genders (though Karch Kiraly is trying to get the USA women moved in that direction).
The men play at a pretty fast tempo these days, though. We don’t see a lot of the middle of the court combination plays (Xs, etc.) we used to see, but there are a couple of reasons for that. One is the way blocking strategies developed (bunch and swing blocking in particular) to deal with those plays, which in turn led to the move toward faster outside sets. Another is the development of the back row play set providing an extra central attacker. Admittedly, that’s less prevalent in the women’s game.
It does seem fairly certain that between at least relatively evenly matched teams there would longer sets. In the real mismatches, though, they’d actually go faster, since a good team wouldn’t have to serve so many points to put a weak team out of their misery.
My feeling also is that sideout scoring more readily identifies the stronger team. In rally scoring, theoretically a team needs to only score a small number of “real” points to win a set. As such, it opens the door for more upsets, especially at levels where siding out happens at a high frequency. That might actually support the case for rally scoring in terms of keeping teams in a match longer.
Plus, even if the sets went exactly the same, play-by-play, a 15-0 score line looks much worse than 25-10. 😉