Wednesday, December 26, 2007

End of the season reminiscing

We've come to the end of another high school and women's college season. As usual, the season presented itself with the usual range of high points and low points for each of us, and for the sport in general. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, I watched UW get shocked out of the NCAA tournament in the 2nd round against BYU, while enjoying a very competitive and fun high school season.

Now that I'm able to take a step back during the holidays before the start of the USAV season, I've been thinking some more about some proposed changes to the college rules for the 2008 season. The biggest proposal that I saw was a proposal to eliminate double contacts on 2nd (and possibly 3rd) team contacts.

A survey went out to all NCAA coaches and officials asking for feedback on these proposed changes. My feedback was No, do not change to allow these. I couldn't comprehend the idea behind allowing this, but then I received a forwarded argument from Mark Massey, coach at University of Puget Sound, entitled Why the Double Hit Must Die. You can read it for yourself, but the main points seem to be:
  • We need to make volleyball more "dynamic", "exciting", "athletic", and other action-oriented verbs
  • Fans do not understand ball handling nor do they see most of the calls made
  • Ball handling calls are inconsistent amongst referees, creating more confusion
  • This is the "last" change needed to propel volleyball into the 1st tier of sports in the US

With the exception of the 2nd point, which I'll wholeheartedly agree with and I'm sure will discuss at length in the future, I think the rest of these points are bogus. There's a great rebuttal at The College Volleyball Coach blog. But I'll add my own 2 cents here:

  1. We need to make the game more athletic: Ask any official who knows what's involved in making a great, clean set from a bad pass, and you see the very definition of athleticism. That one set represented thousands of reps of practice sets, over months of practices and dedication, all to get that one ball in the air. Now, that will be the same as the setter who stumbles over and bumbles the ball up. Doesn't pass my sniff test of "fair play".
  2. Fans don't understand ball handling: How I can prove this is bogus: Attend any Pac-10 home volleyball match, where the conference is notorious for loose ball handling but still presents some of the best volleyball in the country (there's a reason why 6 out of the 10 conference teams were in the NCAA tourney this year), and then wait for the first "deep dish" set from the visitors. You'll hear a collective groan from the entire stadium. The fans know ball handling, and they'll call it as they see it. I think the real problem here comes from the next problem....
  3. Inconsistent application of ball handling from officials: I will whole-heartedly agree with this, for no other reason then I know I struggle with consistency myself, and I know just talking and watching my fellow officials in my area that we don't apply things consistently. How do I know this? a.) Officials get reputations for a reason. Ref A is squeaky tight, Ref B lets ^#(! fly. Why? That's a whole other post, but hopefully we're consistent within the match. b.) I've had numerous debates with my fellow officials about what is and is not a double. Even we can't agree, because c.) every year at the OTP clinic, where do we spend most of our time and discussion? Ball handling. Finally, d.) It's HARD! So much of it is angles and line of sight, and at the top college level the game moves incredibly fast. I may watch a set and have absolutely no view into a double that happened. All I know is the ball came out spinning like an ice skater doing a triple axel. Did the setter double it? Probably. Did every other person in the gym see it? Definitely. Will I call it? Not if I didn't actually see the double happen. But who else understands that? Probably my partner, and any other official watching, and that's about it. We definitely need to be more consistent with ball handling so folks can know what to expect, but part of that is actually allowing officials to enforce ball handling to a reasonable level. More on that at a later time.
  4. This change will propel volleyball back into a top tier sport: I love volleyball. I love playing it, I actually love officiating it. But to think that volleyball will ever be on the same level as football, basketball, or baseball in this country is crazy, and we need to stop pretending like we're always just one step away. Major League Soccer has been "one step away" from really becoming "Major" since they started. They had the benefit of thousands of kids playing soccer at all levels from pre-school through high school. What's happened? MLS still hasn't had a profitable season and hopes that by signing Beckham, who is more brand than athlete these days, will raise awareness, attendance, and TV contracts. Good luck to them on that one, but let's not change volleyball into something unrecognizable as we attempt to "save" it.

Some of the best analogies I've seen are along the lines of: This is like getting rid of the strike zone because umpires can't call it consistently, fans hate it, and scoring would be higher, making the game more "interesting". May be true, but it would definitely no longer be baseball as we know it.

What will happen? I don't know. The change to rally scoring occurred just as I was starting out officiating, so I didn't have much insight into that time, but from what I understand the rule change occurred despite the protests of coaches and conferences because those at the national committee levels felt they needed to act in the best interest of the sport. I hope those folks think about what's in your best interest may be accepting that you can't change a sport to save it.

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