Major League Volleyball, the first professional volleyball league exclusively for women, enters an uncertain arena this month hoping to capitalize on the sport’s Olympic popularity.
The league begins its four-month, 22-match season in late February with six franchises: Chicago Breeze, Dallas Belles, Los Angeles Starlites, Minnesota Monarchs, New York Liberties and San Francisco Gold Diggers.
The MLV is the brainchild of Steve Arnold, a hockey agent once involved with the World Hockey Association. In what amounts to an experiment of sorts in sports socialism, Arnold is the sole league owner. The franchises will operate under six team presidents and a single league budget.
Each club will carry nine players, who in addition to per diem expenses will be paid a modest amount for each game plus bonus money for victories and statistical achievements.
Jerry Saperstein, general manager of the Liberties, said at a gathering to introduce his team that ESPN, the cable sports network, has an 11-week package to televise league games.
The MLV offers a vehicle for women who are not good enough to compete in the top leagues in Japan and Italy and a chance to demonstrate to the paying public that volleyball is more than fun at the beach.
The players were selected in a December draft conducted primarily on a regional basis. The Liberties, the sole Eastern team, are based on Long Island and are the only club stocked with players from outside its area.
Among those playing for the Los Angeles squad are Debbie Green and Rita Crockett -- members of silver-medal winning Olympic team in 1984. Those taking part in the MLV lose NCAA eligibility but remain eligible for the 1988 Olympics.
The core of the women’s Olympic volleyball team is training in San Diego, and only a handful of players from the MLV might compete in the Seoul Games. Volleyball traditionally is one of the more popular Olympic sports and that encourages the MLV.
“The timing is perfect,” said Mary Jo Peppler, the Liberties coach and a former Olympian. “People said ‘Why not after the 1984 Olympics?’ We think we haven’t lost that much in the two years.”