Colleges could hit the beach

It can be seen this weekend at Hermosa Beach, and watched on television throughout the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals’ touring season. Every four years, it’s a featured sport in the Summer Olympics.

But one place beach volleyball has never been seen is on a college sports calendar.

That could change soon.

Beach volleyball is being considered as an addition to the NCAA’s list of emerging sports for women, a program designed to balance the male-to-female participation ratio in college athletics.


The sport would be called sand volleyball -- as not to ostracize schools lacking beachfront property -- and it already has the support of some current stars on the AVP tour.

“I didn’t grow up playing beach volleyball, but having that outlet for younger girls trying to live their dreams would be a great opportunity,” said Nicole Branagh, a University of Minnesota graduate who teamed with Elaine Youngs to win the recent Manhattan Beach Open. “I hope that it goes through. No matter where you are in the U.S., it’ll provide a bunch of new opportunities for women.”

Sand volleyball was approved by an NCAA committee in April, but because of numerous objections to the proposal another vote will take place in January.

Some of the objections have come from traditional volleyball powers that like the idea of adding the sport but take issue with the implementation as currently planned.


John Cook, the indoor women’s volleyball coach at Nebraska, said he envisioned “that it would start off similar to the track model in which you have an indoor and an outdoor season. That way, it gives schools the option if they want to do the outdoor season.”

However, the NCAA’s proposal creates an entirely new sport that includes hiring coaches and granting scholarships. Cook said that prompted many schools to balk at investing in a start-up sport in today’s economy.

Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Assn., said some schools oppose sand volleyball because they are not in a position to add the sport and fear they would be at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting against schools that did.

DeBoer says she envisions sand and indoor volleyball co-existing like water polo and swimming. Water polo teams were at first primarily composed of players recruited as swimmers. But as the sport grew at levels below college, the pool of available recruits expanded.


“I wish I had that opportunity when I was in college because it’s nice to kind of mix it up,” Branagh said. “You’re adding another dimension to the indoor game that is really fun. It can be hard to play one sport year-round. Playing indoor volleyball all year can be tedious, especially on your body, so getting out on the sand would make a difference.”

Alison Wood Lamberson, director of beach programs for USA Volleyball, emphasized that the point of adding sand volleyball would be to create more opportunities for women who would like to play beach volleyball from an early age up through the professional or Olympic levels.

Although some schools may not want to front the money now, some observers think the sport could quickly become a revenue producer.

“People love watching beach volleyball,” AVP spokesperson Alison Shapiro said. “You can see on the Olympics how all the American beach volleyball matches were shown in such prime spots. NBC and their Olympic broadcast put so much money behind our sport and that will only be reflected at the college level.”