Lee at VolleyballMag.com had a conversation with Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott in 2020 on the subject of making a change to the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament. Basically, it went like this.

Keep the first weekend of the tournament the same, and also the last one (Final Four).

Split the middle weekend – the Rounds of 16 and 8 – into two weekends.

For the Round of 16 weekend the top 8 seeds host a 2-of-3 series with their drawn opponent. By that I mean the teams would play a standard 3-of-5 set match on Friday and a second one on Saturday. If necessary, they’d play a deciding third on Sunday.

The pattern would repeat for the Round of 8, with the top 4 teams hosting.

The motivation for this change is basically attendance. Generally speaking, the teams likely to be hosts most often in this format are ones that tend to draw large crowds.

Elliott did also suggest a potential adjustment to the first weekend format where teams wouldn’t necessarily have to play at the seeded team’s gym. It would allow more teams to play home matches in the first round.

My thoughts

I’m honestly not sold on this idea. To start, it’s a bit odd to flip back and forth between formats. Especially in such a dramatic way.

Second, I feel like if you’re going to go the series route you have to give both teams the chance to play at home. It’s kind of the whole point of doing a series. What you end up with otherwise is just extra padding to the odds that the seeded team advances.

I’ll admit that expanding the number of hosts increases expected attendance. After all, you avoid a bunch of matches that don’t involve the host team. Also, you avoid the prospect of the host team not playing in the Round of 8 (Regional Final) after being upset the day before in the Round of 16. You can make a strong argument, however, that upsets make for a more interesting tournament overall. So attendance isn’t the only consideration involved.

One likely outcome of the 2-of-3 format, however, is that the first matches in each series will get less attention and interest. After all, they won’t decide anything. A big part of the crowds and atmosphere of tournament knock-out matches is the drama and tension of elimination.

Also, that idea he has to allow more first round home matches is contrary to his drive to have a fully seeded tournament. That would remove the regionalization which would allow for the secondary hosting.

My own idea

While I admit having better attendance for matches when the hosts aren’t playing would be nice, I really love the Rounds of 16 and 8. If at all possible, I make those days marathons of volleyball viewing. It’s something I look forward to each season!

What I would really like to see changed is the first weekend. Too many entirely uncompetitive matches – especially in the first round. I’d like to see the top teams bye’d out of the first two rounds. That way the lower ranked ones can battle out with each other on a more even field. It’ll make the first weekend WAY more interesting and entertaining.

I have some additional thoughts with respect to how we approach our sport and consume it.

What are your thoughts on Elliot’s idea?

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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